By Paul T. Rosynsky and Loren Goloski
WASHINGTON – Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett is calling for a special session of Congress to vote on President Clinton’s tentative decision to send troops to Zaire for a humanitarian effort to aid Rwandan refugees.
“Since the election, President Clinton has repeatedly stated his intention to work with Congress, but continues to ignore not only Congress, but in this case, U.S. law,” Bartlett, of Frederick, said in a written statement.
Scott Plecs, Bartlett’s senior legislative assistant, said Friday that a 1945 act states congressional authorization is needed before U.S. troops can be deployed to a U.N. operation. “It’s the law,” Plecs said.
But David Johnson, a White House spokesman, said Clinton can deploy the troops without Congress’ approval because it is “not a U.N. operation per se.” He said, “This is a multinational force, which is authorized by the U.N. Security Council.”
Bartlett joined three colleagues in the House in sending a letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., requesting a special session. Plecs said Bartlett saw no problem with holding a session of Congress next week, because many congressmen will be in Washington for leadership elections. Others signing the letter were Republican Reps. Cliff Stearns of Florida, Mark Neumann of Wisconsin and Wally Herger of California.
Spokesman for Gingrich and for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., did not return calls Friday.
Plecs said Bartlett had not received a response to the letter.
Meanwhile, at least two members of the Maryland delegation – Reps. Albert Wynn, D-Largo, and Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore – said they supported sending U.S. troops to Zaire. Both said the president has the authority to do so.
Cummings said the United States needs to set an example.
“We are the only superpower left and we have an obligation to step forward when it comes to humanitarian efforts,” said Anthony W. McCarthey, Cummings’ press secretary. “We set the pace and example for the rest of the world.”
Wynn said he supports Clinton’s move but would like to see a guarantee of protection for U.S. troops from the Zaire government. “What is unclear is what types of guarantees we have,” Wynn said. “I would like to see that consent as soon as possible.”
Plecs said Barlett has not made a “firm decision” on whether or not to support troop deployment to Zaire because the congressman wants more information, including the amount of time troops would spend there and what the exact mission would be.
Clinton said Friday he would only give a green light on the mission if he is sure it is “clear and achievable.”
Johnson said the Pentagon and the White House are still working on the details of how many U.S. troops could be sent into Zaire, but said the administration expects to send “a ballpark figure” of about 1,000 troops. In an written statement released Wednesday, Clinton said the mission could take about four months.
The international humanitarian effort would be led by Canada, and would include about 10,000 to 15,000 troops from France, Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, Senegal and the United States, said Yasuhiro Ueki, the associate spokesman for the secretary general for the United Nations.
Clinton said Friday that troops would be used to protect the Goma airfield in Zaire and would supply an airlift to help drop in troops and supplies.
“The world’s most powerful nation must not turn its back on so many desperate people and so many innocent children,” Clinton said.
Two other members of the Maryland delegation contacted Friday said they had not decided if they support would support U.S. involvement.
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, said he was concerned about the safety of U.S. troops.
Members of Congress “have to watch the president and ensure that there is not another Somalia,” Gilchrest said.
In 1992, when U.S. troops were sent to Somalia for a humanitarian effort, 18 Americans were killed when they attempted to capture a Somalian warlord.
A spokeswoman for Rep. Benjamin Cardin said her boss is being briefed on the situation in Zaire. Although he supports international humanitarian efforts, he is concerned about sending U.S. troops to Zaire, said spokeswoman Susan Sullam. -30-