President seeks prayers on eve of gulf deadline

January 16, 1991|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau of The Sun Peter Osterlund of The Sun's Washington Bureau contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- President Bush began the last day before potential war in the Persian Gulf with a reflective walk around the White House grounds and two telephone calls to clergymen whom he asked to pray for the country.

The White House insisted that Mr. Bush was not looking for spiritual guidance before giving the order that would sends hundreds of thousands of American men and women into battle against Iraq.

"The president is at peace with himself, is ready to make the tough decisions ahead that are necessary," said spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, who also described Mr. Bush as "resolute."

"I would say that he's confident in the correctness of our course."

One of the clergymen to whom the president spoke is an activist in the budding anti-war movement. He said Mr. Bush told him, in effect, that they would have to agree to disagree.

Edmund L. Browning, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, had appealed personally to the president in December to seek a political solution to the crisis, arguing that "two wrongs don't make a right."

Bishop Browning returned to Washington Monday night to take part in an all-night prayer vigil in protest of a war.

The bishop said it occurred to him during the night to offer to come and pray with Mr. Bush, but when the president returned the call, he wanted to talk more about the moral question of going to war to stop a brutal aggressor.

"He said, 'Obviously, we will have opposing positions on this,' " Bishop Browning recalled later. "He sounded very clear, and very strong. He didn't sound as stressed as I had seen him in December."

Mr. Bush also told the bishop, however, that he respected his position and that of the 5,000 or so others who took part in the peace demonstration.

Mr. Bush also called the Rev. Richard C. Halverson, the Senate chaplain whom he has known for years.

The two prayed together over the telephone, Mr. Fitzwater said. The chaplain would not discuss the conversation.

A few hours later, the president convened a meeting of his top military and diplomatic advisers, but the rest of his day was quiet.

He posed for two pictures with staff members who are leaving, taped a message to the families of troops serving in the gulf that will be aired during halftime at the Super Bowl Jan. 27 and left the Oval Office about the usual time, 6:30 p.m. He planned to have dinner and watch the evening news on television.

"I assure you he will be asleep at midnight," Mr. Fitzwater predicted.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, where Defense Secretary Dick Cheney briefed Democratic and Republican senators in separate lunch meetings, the lawmakers were letting their pre-war gloom show.

Sen. Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico described the atmosphere in the GOP lunch as "very, very somber, much different than normal."

At the Democratic lunch, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin said there was a sense of "dejection, a sense of resignation."

"I'm trying to find the word."

"There was nothing new or dramatic" in these sessions, said Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine.

But most, if not all, of the senators appeared to leave with the same sense of inevitability that has engulfed the White House and much of the nation.

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