Bush to 'seek approval' from Congress on Iraq
President: 'Saddam Hussein is a serious threat'
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Calling Saddam Hussein a "serious threat," President Bush said Wednesday he would seek approval from Congress about taking action against Iraq and vowed to make the case against the Iraqi leader on the international stage as well.
"At the appropriate time, the administration will go to the Congress to seek approval necessary to deal with the threat," Bush said at a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House.
In making the administration case for a "regime change" in Iraq, Bush said he invited British Prime Minister Tony Blair to Camp David for talks this Saturday. (Full story) He also planned discussions with other world leaders, including the presidents of France, Russia and China. And Bush said he would talk about Iraq in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly next week.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met with senators on Capitol Hill for a closed-door briefing Wednesday afternoon to discuss Iraq. Afterward, he said the meeting was a regularly scheduled briefing on the war on terrorism and a number of senators, both Democrats and Republicans said Rumsfeld revealed no new intelligence.
"Saddam Hussein is a serious threat," Bush said. "He is a significant problem. And it's something that this country must deal with. And today the process starts about ... our future and how best to deal with it."
After that meeting, congressional leaders said Bush agreed to seek a resolution from Congress should he decide to take military action against Iraq.
"The president began to make his case to us today," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, saying more "clarity" is needed. He added that an attack on Iraq is not inevitable.
"It would not be my assumption that the military course is the only action available to (the president) today," Daschle said.
He and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, said that Bush said he would seek a congressional resolution of support should he decide to strike Iraq.
Hastert said he expects such a resolution would come before the current congressional session ends in early October, "but that's speculation."
"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," said Hastert. Congressional leaders said they expected a debate on Iraq policy to begin almost immediately.
A senior U.S. official involved in presidential deliberations and at the meeting said Bush "had the authority to act. What he is seeking is a resolution of support." This official said the exact language in a resolution would be discussed in the days and weeks ahead, but that the White House was "hopeful" Congress would act before it adjourns.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said Bush made a "convincing case" for taking military action against Saddam, and he predicted both Congress and the American people would support such a move.
"I think military action is inevitable," said House Majority Whip Tom Delay, R-Texas.
But some Democrats think otherwise.
House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, described the meeting as the start of developing a strategy for dealing with the Iraqi president. "I don't think there is one way to deal with this at this point. There will be an explanation at the United Nations of perhaps ways of dealing with this short of military power," Gephardt said.
In his comments, Bush stopped short of saying the United States would launch a military strike against Iraq, but he made it clear he wanted something done about Saddam.
The White House accuses Iraq of trying to obtain weapons of mass destruction in violation of U.N. resolutions ending the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
"Doing nothing about that serious threat is not an option for the United States," Bush said.
In a letter to congressional leaders, Bush said he would "seek congressional support for U.S. action to do whatever is necessary to deal with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime." He said Congress can "play an important role" in building a consensus for action. (Text of letter)
Lawmakers said they want to know Bush's timetable for a military offensive, how many troops and how much money would be involved, the feasibility of pursuing such a strategy without support from a coalition of other nations, and whether the administration would accept a new round of weapons inspections in Iraq.
Complicating the administration's strategy is the pressure on Iraq to allow United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country. U.S. officials say they believe Saddam either will not allow inspectors back in or will allow them back only to frustrate them.
Bush voiced his frustration with Saddam.
"For 11 long years, Saddam Hussein has sidestepped, crawfished, wheedled out of any agreement that he had made not to develop weapons of mass destruction, agreements that he has made to treat the people within his country with respect," the president said. "And so I am going to call upon the world to recognize he is stiffing the world."
Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday that the Bush administration believes inspectors should return to Iraq, but is skeptical that they will be allowed to do their jobs.
He said that Bush, when he addresses the U.N. General Assembly September 12, will say, "Inspections will be an issue, but it is not the primary issue. The primary issue is: how do we get Iraq to comply with its obligations under these various U.N. resolutions."
Clinton: Cooperate with allies
Appearing on CNN's "Larry King Live" on Tuesday, former President Bill Clinton said Bush should have congressional approval, not simply advice, before undertaking military action in Iraq. And Clinton indicated that he favors cooperation with U.S. allies in making a decision. (Full story)
The question is not whether to attack Iraq, but how, and under what circumstances, Clinton said.
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, also speaking with Larry King, said he'd recommend military action "only if we not only consult with Congress, but have a vote. And then I think I would try the arms inspection one more time, but not let Iraq delay and dither and all those things."