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Kempthorne Wants Answers About Iraq Northwest Lawmakers Give Clinton Only Qualified Support

Congress may not be ready to support military action against Iraq because President Clinton still has not explained a clear policy, Idaho Sen. Dirk Kempthorne said Wednesday.

After visiting Mountain Home Air Force Base during the weeklong congressional recess, Kempthorne said the nation’s military is ready to do whatever it is asked to do.

But Congress has some questions it must answer first, said Republican Kempthorne, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“The administration has not been able to articulate an end game,” he said. “After airstrikes, what’s the next step? What’s the final step?”

Kempthorne was among several Northwest members of Congress talking about Iraq on Wednesday.

In Spokane, Republican Rep. George Nethercutt offered qualified support for airstrikes. But Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington said she might vote against military action if the Pentagon isn’t taking steps to avoid a new round of Gulf War syndrome.

Nethercutt likened Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler and said President Clinton should have used more force, earlier, in dealing with the Iraqi leader.

“I think the president deserves our support. I just hope he’s careful,” Nethercutt told a Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce luncheon. “I don’t think it ought to be as simple as bomb or not bomb.”

The United States could expand the no-fly zone across all of Iraq and turn over the assets seized during the Gulf War to a group trying to oust Saddam, he said.

He would support a resolution for airstrikes as part of a clearly stated American foreign policy that leaders who threaten their neighbors or their own people must be contained and punished.

But like Kempthorne, Nethercutt said he would oppose using ground troops against Iraq.

“I don’t think we’re in the business of occupying countries to take down regimes,” Nethercutt said.

Said Kempthorne: “We do not have the strong coalition we had in Desert Storm.”

Kempthorne and Murray may face a Senate vote as early as next week on military action against Iraq.

Both are hesitant to commit to voting yes.

Murray said she first wants assurances the Pentagon can do a better job of preventing conditions that some have linked to medical problems known as Gulf War syndrome.

She and other members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee asked what changes have been made since the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Their letter to Defense Secretary Bill Cohen asks what’s being done to “avoid the mistakes of the past” by protecting troops against chemical and biological warfare and tracking of the troops’ medical records.

“We’ve been struggling with this for six years,” said Murray, who held hearings in Spokane on problems some veterans link to their service in the gulf. “I don’t want to be here in a year and a half, facing the same thing.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos

MEMO: Changed in the Spokane edition.

Changed in the Spokane edition.