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Q&A: Sen. Charles E. Schumer on Western New York, world issues; Part I

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer has been at the forefront of Western New York efforts on the Peace Bridge, waterfront and other issues. He plays a prominent role in national Democratic politics as chairman of the Senate Democrats' Campaign Committee. He discussed local and national issues here, and, in Part II of this Q&A next Sunday, talks about Judge Samuel Alito and China trade.

Q: You head the committee electing Democrats in the Senate. Rep. Thomas Reynolds heads the one for electing Republicans to the House. Does that help New York State?

A: I work well with Tom Reynolds, even though he is head of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee and I'm head of the Democratic Senatorial committee. We are good friends. . . .

Being head of either of these organizations increases your clout. And that allows me to do more for Western New York . . . When people know that you're the guy to go to, in terms of getting re-elected, it helps increase your ability to get things done for Western New York and for all of New York State.

Q: How do you view progress on a shared border management plan that would put most customs and immigration inspections on the Canadian side of the bridge?

A: This is something that the Niagara Partnership and the Peace Bridge Authority came to me on a year or two ago, and it seemed like an impossible task. You have to get both the U.S. government and the Canadian federal government to agree on something local and specific that would affect the Peace Bridge. But we've really worked hard on this together and we had some real great success. While there are still some kinks to be ironed out, basically we've had an agreement in concept that the inspections and everything else occur on the Canadian side -- that will allow a much better bridge to be built, fewer houses that would have to be torn down on the New York side and make traffic move much more quickly. So, this is a win-win-win for Buffalo and all of New York.

Q: On the Iraq war, how do you explain your comments following the vote in 2002 in favor?

A: In a post- 9/1 1 world, you have to give the president some latitude on foreign policy. But at the same time, we need to have real accountability. So once you give the president some latitude, you have to hold him accountable and I think that's what both Democrats and Republicans -- people like Sen. John McCain, as well as Congressman John Murtha -- are doing. And that's the appropriate congressional role. Our job is to make sure that the president has a good plan, to make sure our soldiers have the resources they need, to hold (his) feet to the fire.

Q: What action should the Bush administration take next in Iraq?

A: Their goal is to allow the Iraqi troops to take over, and that's a great goal. The problem is, it's moving much too slowly for most people's satisfaction. I think the reason is, the Iraqis really don't believe in an Iraqi central government.

Eighty percent of them have been oppressed every time there's been a central government -- the Kurds in the north, they're about close to 30 percent of the people, and the Shiites in the south, they're a little more than 50 percent of the people. We ought to explore something a little different and not have three separate countries, but three semi-autonomous regions each governing themselves, instead of one central government.

When you try to create a central government, the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis all spend more time being hostile to one another than creating one Iraqi entity.

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