WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush, opening a public-relations offensive against Saddam Hussein, pledged yesterday to seek congressional approval before taking action against the Iraqi leader and warned wary allies their “credibility is at stake” as they decide whether to back the United States.
The president will argue his case before the United Nations General Assembly next week after a weekend huddle at Camp David with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, virtually alone among overseas leaders in supporting Bush’s intent to see Saddam overthrown.
“Saddam Hussein is a serious threat. He is a significant problem and something the country must deal with,” Bush said after meeting with congressional leaders at the White House. “Doing nothing about that serious threat is not an option for the United States.”
The president is strongly considering a U.N. Security Council resolution that would set a deadline for Iraq to open its weapons sites to unfettered inspection and to imply punitive action if he refuses, three administration officials told The Associated Press.
To get the resolution through the council, and past a threatened veto by China or Russia, the resolution would not spell out the threat, but it would be obvious to Saddam, said one of the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Some two dozen ideas are circulating within the administration, and among them is the notion of “coercive inspections” – forcing Iraq to open its suspect sites to inspectors by deploying thousands of American or multinational troops in or near Iraq who would launch an attack if inspectors were denied, a senior U.S. official said.
“I am in the process of deciding how to proceed,” Bush wrote in a letter given to members of Congress in their Cabinet Room talks. The president also wrote that he is committed to an internationalist approach and, in addition to meeting with Blair, will “reach out” to presidents Jacques Chirac of France, Jiang Zemin of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia – all three currently opposed to military action against Iraq.
As for an eventual congressional resolution, Bush suggested in his letter that he could ask for essentially a blank check. “At an appropriate time

Paul Wong
AP PHOTO
President Bush meets with top Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the Cabinet Room of the White House yesterday as Vice President Dick Cheney looks on.

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