WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush sought today to shore up his coalition for a military strike against Iraq as Baghdad said Saddam Hussein will defy Bush’s demand that he surrender power by 8 p.m. EST tomorrow.

Bush spoke by telephone to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has condemned military action against Iraq. Shortly before the call, Russia’s lower house of parliament decided to indefinitely put off a vote to ratify a U.S.-Russia nuclear arms treaty because of the threat of war in Iraq.

“The two openly acknowledged that they don’t see eye-to-eye on whether or not force should be used to disarm Saddam Hussein,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. They agreed on the “regional threat” posed by Iraq, however.

Bush also spoke to China’s newly installed president, Hu Jintao, who told Bush that China hopes for “peace instead of war” and wants a political settlement through the United Nations.

Neither China nor Russia was on a list of 30 countries the State Department says are members of a “Coalition for the Immediate Disarmament of Iraq.” Secretary of State Colin Powell said 15 others had privately pledged support.

Bush was speaking to a series of leaders, some “people who may be in the coalition. There are calls to people who won’t be in the coalition,” Fleischer said.

Today, Iraq’s leadership rejected Bush’s ultimatum. Iraqi television said the decision was made in a joint meeting of the Revolution Command Council and the leadership of the ruling Baath party. Saddam chaired the meeting, it said.

Saddam’s elder son, Odai Hussein, said in a statement that Bush is “unstable” and “should give up power in America with his family.”

Fleischer responded that “Iraq has made a series of mistakes, including arming themselves with weapons of mass destruction that have brought this crisis upon itself.

“This is the latest mistake Iraq could make. It would be Saddam’s final mistake,” Fleischer said. “The president still hopes he will take the ultimatum seriously and leave the country.”

But Fleischer would not rule out a U.S. attack before Bush’s 48-hour clock ran out if the Iraqi leader rejects the exile offer. “Saddam Hussein has to figure out what this means,” he said.

Bush was spending the day in a White House protected by increased security measures, calling allies and trying to recruit partners for the war. He also met with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, as he has each day.

He was making several calls to world leaders, including , in a prime-time speech last night, vowed to strike Iraq with “the full force and might” of the U.S. military unless Saddam and his two sons leave Iraq within 48 hours. More than 250,000 American forces are poised for action in the Persian Gulf. “The tyrant will soon be gone,” the president pledged

Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle charged that a collapse of the administration’s diplomatic efforts had brought an unneeded war.

“I’m saddened, saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we’re now forced to war,” Daschle said in a speech to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “Saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn’t create the kind of diplomatic effort that was so critical for our country.”

Fleischer accused Daschle of being “inconsistent” because the Democratic leader had insisted last September that “we ought not politicize this war.”

Fleischer said Daschle did not raise objections yesterday in a meeting at the White House with other lawmakers shortly before the president’s address. “He said nothing,” Fleischer said.

Bush likened the Iraq threat to those posed by perpetrators of genocide in the last century. “In this century, when evil men plot chemical, biological and nuclear terror, a policy of appeasement could bring destruction of a kind never before seen on this earth,” he said.

“Responding to such enemies only after they have struck first is not self-defense, it is suicide,” Bush said. “The security of the world requires disarming Saddam Hussein now.”

Having abandoned diplomacy at the stubbornly divided U.N. Security Council, Bush set about trying to win over an equally divided American public. A CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll found Americans just about evenly split on whether the United States should unleash military action without a new U.N. vote. Forty-seven percent supported such an action and 50 percent opposed it.

Bush often says that Iraq seeks to help “al-Qaida-type” groups, but last night he went a step further, saying Iraq has “aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al Qaida.”

The president gave Saddam 48 hours, starting at 8 p.m. EST yesterday, to leave his country or face “military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing.” He warned weapons inspectors and journalists to leave Iraq immediately.

Bush also cautioned Americans that war could result in domestic terror attacks, and the government raised the terror alert status to its second-highest level, orange, after he spoke. Security was visibly tightened around the White House.

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