President Bush said after a meeting with congressional leaders in the White House Cabinet Room, ”Saddam Hussein is a serious threat. He is a significant problem. And it’s something that this country must deal with.”
The president also said he plans to meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair — a world leader expressing rare support for the U.S. stance against Iraq — this weekend at Camp David to discuss their “mutual concerns” about world security.
In London, Blair said his government hopes to provide evidence over the next few weeks of Saddam’s efforts to develop biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Blair reiterated his position that the “threat posed by the current Iraqi regime is real.”
President Bush will also consult the leaders of China, Russia and France on the telephone, and will meet with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien next week.
Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein told a group of Arab parliamentarians in Baghdad Wednesday that the Iraqi people did not want war but would fight any U.S. action against his regime.
“If God chooses that we have to fight, we won’t disappoint you,” Reuters quoted the Iraqi leader as saying.
President Bush’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 12 will outline his case against Saddam while trying to build on virtually non-existent international public support for a possible U.S. strike.
According to administration sources quoted in the Associated Press, the president is considering a UN Security Council resolution that would set a deadline for Iraq to provide unfettered access to weapons sites and imply military consequences if the deadline is refused.
Asked about his opinion on sending UN weapons inspectors to Iraq, the president deferred to his upcoming UN speech saying, “the issue is not inspectors; the issue is disarmament.”
“For 11 long years, Saddam Hussein has sidestepped, crawfished, wheedled out of any agreements he had made not to develop weapons of mass destruction,” the president added.
As Mr. Bush launches a new public relations campaign against Iraq, top White House officials continue their quest to garner domestic and international support for a possible invasion.
After their meeting with the president, congressional leaders told reporters they welcome the renewed dialogue on the Iraqi threat and said they would like to vote before the Nov. 5 mid-term elections on a non-binding resolution on what to do about Iraq.
“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,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) told reporters.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said the president wants to work with Congress on the issue, but that in the meantime, “the case has to be made to the American people as well.”
Sen. Daschle said he looked forward to discussing “options and strategies” with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in planned classified meetings to discuss the war on terrorism on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
While en route to a UN summit in South Africa Tuesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters that while there are differences in the Bush administration on Iraqi policy, the president would decide “in the very near future” whether military action is the right course to take.
“We are all working hard and we are all working in harmony to make sure the president has the best information and all the different insights that exist within his cabinet that could be brought to bear on this so that he could make the best decision,” Powell told reporters.