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Shelby discusses legislative agenda at meeting

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R.-Ala., touched on foreign policy crises in Iraq and North Korea and hinted at domestic policy reforms that may come from the 108th Congress during a town hall meeting Friday in Troy.

Shelby, who was battling the flu, thanked Troy State University and Troy Mayor Jimmy Lunsford for consistently supporting his endeavors. He noted that the town hall meeting, which was sponsored by the Pike County Chamber of Commerce and the Pike County Economic Development Corporation, was the 17th consecutive year of meeting with constituents in such a format. He then gave a quick overview of several pressing issues.

&uot;You're going to hear the drums of war in the next few weeks,&uot; Shelby told the crowd, which was largely comprised of business and community leaders and elected officials. &uot;We're going to be headed in the direction of war unless Saddam Hussein does a 180-degree turnaround.&uot;

Shelby, who has been a prominent advocate of initiating a war with Iraq, included barbs for &uot;so-called allies&uot; in Europe who have not endorsed the American drive to war.

Of Europe's 46 sovereign states, 28 have been so far unwilling to publicly support a United States invasion of Iraq.

Shelby also painted an ominous picture on the Korean Peninsula, where he said a nuclear-armed North Korea could set off an arms race in Asia.

&uot;Japan could go nuclear and that would make China very nervous,&uot; he said.

After being labeled a member of an &uot;axis of evil&uot; by President George W. Bush, North Korea announced that it was renewing work on a nuclear weapons program. However, despite a public push to gain the weapons that Iraq is suspected of having, the United States so far continues to pursue a diplomatic path in Northeast Asia.

Shelby, who heads the Senate Banking Committee, touted the passage of the remaining 11 Congressional appropriations bills, but noted &uot;the razor-thin majority&uot; by which Senate Republicans govern. He pledged to support federal funding for education and to examine and resist the possibilities of regional military base closings.

Four or five members of the audience asked questions and the inquiries ranged from what sort of federal support for job-to-work funding could be expected in coming years to how exploding health care costs could be curtailed, particularly with regards to Medicare.

When asked about spiking energy costs, Shelby indicated that he supported drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a solution to dependence on foreign oil and dismissed any potential environmental consequences from such an act.

&uot;We drill in the Gulf of Mexico and the fish there have flourished,&uot; he said.

Stephen Stetson can be reached at stephen.stetson @troymessenger.com.