WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration and holdout GOP senators expressed confidence yesterday that they could reach a compromise on rules for CIA interrogations of suspected terrorists.
Neither the president's national security aides nor some of the lawmakers who are resisting White House pressure would say how they can reconcile their deep differences after a week of public sparring.
As a result, it is unclear whether Congress can quickly pass legislation authorizing aggressive methods against terrorist detainees, as President Bush wants. Congress is likely to adjourn in two weeks for the fall elections.
Bush says CIA personnel should be able to resume tough interrogation techniques to extract information from detainees. Several senators from his own party are standing in the way, seeking changes. They say the United States must adhere strictly to international standards in the Geneva Conventions and that setting harsher ones could put US troops at risk if they are captured.
``We have to hold the moral high ground," said Senator John McCain of Arizona, one of the Republicans not satisfied with the White House proposal, on ABC's ``This Week."
``We don't think Al Qaeda will ever observe those conventions, but we're going to be in other wars."
McCain elaborated later at a reception in Concord, N.H., after helping kick off a NASCAR race about 10 miles away. One of the things that sustained Americans captured during the Vietnam War was the knowledge that ``we come from a better nation with better values," he told about 70 people.
He warned against breaking with provisions of the Geneva Conventions that protect wartime prisoners. ``That's what we do not want, because Americans would be setting the precedent for changing a treaty that has been untouched by any nation for 57 years," he said.
A Supreme Court ruling in June essentially said the Geneva Conventions should apply to suspected terrorists in CIA custody. The decision froze interrogations and eventually led the administration to turn over the last 14 prisoners in CIA custody to the military officials running a prison for detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Bush's national intelligence director, John Negroponte, said on ``Fox News Sunday" that the interrogation program has had ``precious little activity of that kind for a number of months now" because of questions about its legality. But, he said, it is important that the program continue.