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Kelly Wallace: Bush reaches out on Iraq policy

CNN's Kelly Wallace
CNN's Kelly Wallace  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush began making his case for ousting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to congressional leaders Wednesday, saying he would seek their approval for military force "at the appropriate time."

White House officials emphasized that Bush has made no decision about the use of military force against Iraq, but the president has indicated he wants to take some kind of action against Saddam. "Doing nothing about that serious threat is not an option for the United States," Bush said as he met with senior lawmakers at the White House.

CNN White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace filed the following report Wednesday:

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WALLACE: This administration certainly is facing a great deal of criticism from U.S. lawmakers, U.S. allies, even members of the previous Bush administration. All these officials [are] saying this administration has not presented or made a case for U.S. policy in Iraq.

Well, this administration is now mounting a counteroffensive. You have the president inviting House, Senate Republican and Democratic leaders, key leaders to the White House [on Wednesday].

The headline coming out of this meeting [is] that the president will definitely seek a resolution of support from both houses of Congress before pursuing any military action in Iraq. This [comes] after White House leaders told the president he did not need congressional approval for any military campaign. But [in] listening to the president, he clearly has decided he must get congressional support for any offensive to be successful.

Also the administration is planning to have administration officials testify before congressional committees over the next several weeks. In fact, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will be up on Capitol Hill later [Wednesday]. This was a previously scheduled session, but he is expected to talk a great deal behind closed doors about Iraq and possibly present more intelligence information about the nature of the threat.

Coming out of the meeting, lawmakers said they expect the president to seek this congressional resolution soon before lawmakers recess for the November elections.

There are two schools of thought: You have House Republican leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, saying he believes military action is inevitable. But when we talked to House Democratic Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, he believes it still might be possible to exhaust other diplomatic options and prevent any military action.

The sense is President Bush still has not made a decision about whether to attack, and lawmakers coming out of this meeting [Wednesday] say the president has said he will consult with Congress, that their opinions are important.

Look for the president's speech next week to the United Nations General Assembly on September 12. That is where we are told the president will really articulate his thinking when it comes to policy in Iraq.

But then the administration knows it needs to get the support of the American people, the support of the U.S. Congress and the support of U.S. allies before any military campaign. So there is no sense anything is imminent.

But again a congressional resolution [is] likely before lawmakers recess in a couple of weeks for the November elections.




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