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Bush to Congress: Don't tie my hands

Senate prepares for debate on resolution

Bush: "Why would Congress want to weaken that resolution?"

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush warned Congress Tuesday not to limit his options on Iraq as the Senate prepared to debate whether to endorse military action to disarm Saddam Hussein.

"We'll continue to work with the members of Congress, but I don't want to get a resolution that ties my hands," Bush said.

Meanwhile, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer Tuesday offered exile or assassination as possible solutions for a standoff with Iraq, although he later said he was only making a rhetorical point.

Asked about congressional estimates that deploying troops to Iraq could cost more than $9 billion a month, Fleischer said, "I can only say that the cost of a one-way ticket is substantially less than that. The cost of one bullet, the Iraqi people taking it on themselves, is substantially less than that."

Earlier, Bush was asked about a proposal by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Delaware, and a top Republican on the committee, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana.

The proposed resolution would tie U.S. action to the adoption of a U.N. resolution authorizing force to disarm Saddam or require Bush to state that efforts to obtain U.N. backing have failed.

Bush said he has made no decision to go to war with Iraq, but he added, "This country is determined to disarm Iraq and thereby bring peace to the world." He said he would not accept a resolution he considers weaker than one Congress passed in 1998, endorsing Saddam's removal.

"This guy has had four years to lie, deceive, to arm up. He has had four years to thumb his nose at the world. He is stockpiling more weapons. So I am not sure why members would like to weaken the resolution," Bush said.

The Biden-Lugar proposal is separate from a draft measure under discussion by the White House and top congressional leaders, who are scheduled to meet with Bush at the White House Wednesday. That measure, while scaled back from what the White House originally proposed, does not tie U.S. action to any U.N. resolution.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle had earlier suggested the Senate would take up the resolution on the Senate floor Wednesday, but negotiators were still working Tuesday to come up with language that would be acceptable to all sides.

White House aides, including Bush counsel Al Gonzales, met with congressional staff Monday night to work on a draft resolution.

Gephardt: 'It's hard work'

"We're still working on it, and we'll continue," House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt told CNN. Another provision of the Biden-Lugar proposal, calling on Bush to report to Congress on the progress of any conflict more frequently, is "an issue we're looking at."

"I want to get this done, but we've got to do what's right," Gephardt, D-Missouri, said. "We can't rush it for the sake of rushing it. It's hard work."

Lugar met Tuesday at the White House with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, and then later met with Gonzales again on Capitol Hill.

Though the 1998 resolution Bush cited did not authorize military force, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer argued that by dropping several U.S. grievances included in it, the Biden-Lugar proposal amounted to backing away from previous demands.

He said the senators' proposal drops language that accused Iraq of supporting terrorism, and demanded that Saddam end human rights violations inside Iraq and "cease threatening his neighbors."

"If that's the message Saddam Hussein hears, that's problematic," Fleischer said.

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