George W Bush has promised to seek congressional approval to use military force to oust Saddam Hussein as the White House considered giving Iraq a last-ditch ultimatum over weapons inspectors.
Congress would vote before the November 5 elections on how to deal with Saddam, House Speaker Dennis Hastert said yesterday.
Democrats who control the Senate said the non-binding resolution is possible but not certain because of the lack of time and Mr Bush’s failure thus far to make his case for war.
“It would not be my assumption that the military course is the only action available to him today,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
“This is a debate the American people must hear, must understand,” Mr Bush said after a Cabinet Room meeting with 18 Democratic and Republican congressional leaders. “And the world must understand, as well, that its credibility is at stake.”
After weeks of conflict and criticism, Mr Bush began a public relations campaign to convince Americans and wary allies of the need to overthrow Saddam perhaps by opening a second, perilous front on the war against terrorism.
Essentially seeking a blank cheque, Mr Bush told lawmakers: “At an appropriate time, and after consultations with the leadership, I will seek congressional support for US action to do whatever is necessary to deal with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime.”
Baghdad denounced Mr Bush’s “evil plans”. Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri, speaking at the Arab foreign ministers meeting in Egypt, said: “These are whims and lies and pretexts - all prepared with no evidence at all to support them.”
Also in Cairo, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said the threat of war against Iraq “constitutes a danger for the stability of the entire region”.
In South Africa, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said he received “a solid expression of support” from allies at a UN development summit after meeting on the sidelines with 10 leaders.
Powell did not say whether that included support for military action. Other leaders made clear they disapproved of an attack and called for pursuing some course that would allow the resumption of UN inspections.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said his country is firmly against military action. He rebuffed calls by Britain for European nations to help apply pressure to Iraq, saying to do so would be caving to US will.
“Friendship cannot mean that you do what the friend wants even if you have another opinion,” Mr Schroeder said.
Mr Bush plans to make his case before the UN on September 12, a day after the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
On Saturday at Camp David he will meet with Prime Minister Tony Blair, the staunchest US ally on Iraq. Mr Bush said he would reach out to presidents Jacques Chirac of France, Jiang Zemin of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia - all three opposed to war with Iraq.
Bush will argue that Saddam has flouted UN resolutions aimed at curbing his weapons of mass destruction programme since the Persian Gulf War, and thus the world body is obligated to help the US punish Saddam for not complying, administration officials said.