- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

President Bush yesterday promised top lawmakers that he would seek congressional approval next month for any administration plan to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, whom he called "a serious threat to the United States."
After meeting yesterday at the White House for an hour with House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and others, Mr. Bush said: "Doing nothing about that serious threat is not an option for the United States."
"I believe it's important for the world to deal with this man. The world must understand, as well, that its credibility is at stake," the president said.
As Mr. Bush stepped up the administration's offensive to convince Congress and U.S. allies of the need to oust Saddam, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell lobbied foreign leaders for support yesterday in Johannesburg, saying the United States would release evidence that Baghdad was pursuing weapons of mass destruction "with even greater vigor" than before.
In other developments, Mr. Bush:
Announced that he would begin an open dialogue with congressional leaders, provide information and send administration officials to testify before House and Senate committees and methodically lay out his administration's reasons for pursuing regime change in Iraq.
Said he plans to use a speech next Thursday at the United Nations as the first step in outlining to world leaders the case against Saddam.
Said he would meet at Camp David this weekend with British Prime Minister Tony Blair the only world leader so far to express support for the U.S. call for regime change in Iraq.
Said he would telephone Presidents Jacques Chirac of France, Jiang Zemin of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia, all of whom oppose military action against Iraq.
Considered giving Iraq a last-ditch ultimatum on letting in U.N. weapons inspectors.
The United States' crisis with Iraq began when Baghdad expelled U.N. weapons inspectors in 1998.
But Mr. Bush made it clear yesterday that the issue would not be resolved simply by Baghdad agreeing to weapons inspections. Instead, he said that in his Sept. 12 address to the United Nations he will remind the body that the Iraqi leader needs to show that he no longer poses a threat to regional and world peace.
"The issue is not inspectors, the issue is disarmament," Mr. Bush said.
"This is a man who said he would not arm up. This is a man who told the world that he would not harbor weapons of mass destruction. I will first remind the United Nations that for 11 long years, Saddam Hussein has sidestepped, crawfished, wheedled out of any agreement he had made not to develop weapons of mass destruction."
"And so I'm going to call upon the world to recognize that he is stiffing the world. And I will lay out and I will talk about ways to make sure that he fulfills his obligations."
The president's reassurance yesterday to lawmakers that he will seek congressional approval before taking action was welcomed by congressional leaders.
"The president began to make his case to us today, and we're hoping for more information and greater clarity in the days and weeks ahead," Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, told reporters after the White House meeting.
He added: "It would not be my assumption that the military course is the only action available to him today."
Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, said Mr. Bush still has much work to do.
"He'll make available his people to testify before the Congress, and ultimately, when the time is right, he'll come to the Congress for a resolution. In the meantime, that case has to be made to the American people as well. And it will be part of the Congress' role to do that as well," Mr. Hastert said.
Mr. Daschle also said there are many questions that must be answered before Congress will be prepared to vote on a resolution authorizing a U.S. attack on Iraq. Mr. Bush has asked for such a resolution before Congress adjourns early next month.
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, said Bush officials will offer new information about Saddam when they come before congressional committees in the next few weeks.
"That's the beginning of an effort to get a strategy that's shared by a lot of our allies in the world and to build the kind of coalition that we did in 1991," he said, referring to the 1991 Gulf war, when 37 nations joined the United States in expelling Iraqi forces from neighboring Kuwait.
Mr. Bush's plans for Iraq have not been finalized, and Congress may end up voting on a resolution before the president announces what he will do. That point was clear in a letter Mr. Bush sent to congressional leaders in which he stated: "At an appropriate time, and after consultations with the leadership, I will seek congressional support for U.S. action to do whatever is necessary to deal with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime."
More than two dozen options are circulating within the administration on how to deal with Saddam, including forcing Iraq to open its suspected weapons sites to U.N. inspectors by deploying thousands of U.S. troops in or near Iraq. The troops would begin an attack if inspectors were denied access, three administration officials told the Associated Press.
Vice President Richard B. Cheney has said readmitting U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq would be pointless, although Mr. Powell and the president have said inspectors could be a first step to resolving the crisis with Baghdad.
Mr. Powell, who attended the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, said the administration is seeking to convince its allies of the threat posed to international security by Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.
"We are trying to make sure the world understands this threat," which Mr. Powell described as "an affront to the entire civilized world," he told reporters at the end of the summit.
The world could "make its own judgment" of Iraqi intentions and capabilities once the evidence was presented, he said.
Several European leaders appealed in meetings with Mr. Powell for the United States to seek a resolution at the United Nations calling for an unconditional return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq before any military action.
Mr. Powell said Mr. Bush "has every intention of consulting with our friends and allies and the U.N. on how best to move forward" but that the United States "reserved the right" to protect its security even without an international green light.
In remarks aimed at clarifying confusion about the U.S. policy, Mr. Powell said the main issue was not the return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq but preventing Baghdad from defying and endangering the world.
"One way is perhaps with inspectors playing a role. We see regime change as another way," he said. Mr. Powell later described the latter as a more effective and desirable outcome.
Dave Boyer from Capitol Hill and Paul Martin in Johannesburg contributed to this report.


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