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White House says Bush will veto US defense policy bill

White House says Bush will veto US defense policy bill

President George W. Bush plans to veto a sweeping U.S. defense policy bill on grounds that language exposing the Iraqi government to damage suits stemming from the Saddam Hussein era would derail Baghdad's efforts to rebuild the country.
Administration officials said Bush was expected the veto the bill Friday.
Democratic congressional leaders complained that Bush's move was thrust upon them at the last minute. The controversy centers on one provision in the legislation dealing with Iraqi assets. The bill would permit plaintiffs' lawyers immediately to freeze Iraqi funds and would expose Iraq to "massive liability in lawsuits concerning the misdeeds of the Saddam Hussein regime," said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel.
"The new democratic government of Iraq, during this crucial period of reconstruction, cannot afford to have its funds entangled in such lawsuits in the United States," Stanzel said in a statement.
House and Senate Democrats said Friday the first time they had heard of any White House concerns with the legislation was after Congress sent the bill to Bush for his signature.
"The administration should have raised its objections earlier, when this issue could have been addressed without a veto," the leader of the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, both Democrats, said in a joint statement. "The American people will have every right to be disappointed if the president vetoes this legislation, needlessly delaying implementation of the troops' pay raise, the Wounded Warriors Act and other critical measures."
Sovereign nations are normally immune from lawsuits in U.S. courts. An exception is made for state sponsors of terrorism and Iraq was designated such a nation in 1990. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, however, Congress passed a law and Bush issued a decree stating that Iraq was exempt from such lawsuits.
After that exemption was passed, the administration challenged and successfully overturned a $959 million court ruling for members of the U.S. military who said they were tortured as prisoners of war during the first Persian Gulf War.
The Justice Department also sought to defeat a lawsuit brought by U.S. citizens held hostage during Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. That case has been taken over by lawyers for the new Iraqi government and is ongoing in a Washington federal court.
The provision that is causing problems would have allowed the victims of the executed Iraqi dictator Saddam to seek compensation in court, Democrats said. The Iraqi government has warned that former U.S. prisoners of war from the first Gulf War might cite this legislation in an attempt to get money from the Iraqi government's reported $25 billion (euro17 billion) in assets now held in U.S. banks, they say.
Unless Bush vetoes the legislation, the Iraqis have threatened to withdraw all of their money from the U.S. financial system to protect it from the lawsuits, Democrats said. The White House contends the legislation subject to the Bush veto would imperil Iraqi assets held in the United States, including reconstruction and central bank funds.
"Once in place, the restrictions on Iraq's funds that could result from the bill could take months to lift," Stanzel said. In turn, he said, those restrictions must not be allowed to become law "even for a short period of time."
Shot back Reid and Pelosi: "We understand that the president is bowing to the demands of the Iraqi government, which is threatening to withdraw billions of dollars invested in U.S. banks if this bill is signed."
The defense policy bill passed by veto-proof margins in the House and the Senate. Democratic aides said they have not ruled out any legislative options, including passing a technical correction or trying to override Bush's veto.
The sponsor of the contested provision, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat, said it would allow "American victims of terror to hold perpetrators accountable _ plain and simple."
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called on lawmakers to "move rapidly to fix this section" when Congress returns in January so that the underlying bill can be signed.
"It is my hope that the House and Senate will pass the modification when we return in January, in a bipartisan manner that preserves the important gains our nation has achieved in Iraq during 2007, without further delaying the many valuable programs in the bill," McConnnell said.
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Associated Press Writer Jesse Holland in Washington contributed to this story.


Updated : 2021-03-07 18:03 GMT+08:00