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WH: Bush to seek Hill's OK on Iraq strikes

Cheney presses administration case against Saddam

President Bush waves as he leaves Marine One, on a day trip to Arkansas and Oklahoma on Thursday.
President Bush waves as he leaves Marine One, on a day trip to Arkansas and Oklahoma on Thursday.  

OKLAHOMA CITY (CNN) -- President Bush will seek congressional approval before striking Iraq, administration officials said Thursday, but it wasn't clear what form any such show of support would take.

Administration officials have earlier said they don't believe the president needs a formal vote sanctioning military action against Iraq, but they've also said they would consult with Congress about their plans.

The assurance came as Vice President Dick Cheney outlined the administration's case against the regime of Saddam Hussein, delivering his second such speech this week. Cheney and other administration officials acknowledged a growing debate about what the United States should do about Iraq and what role Congress may play in that process.

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"President Bush fundamentally understands the importance of public and congressional support when it comes to taking military action," a senior White House official told CNN. "The president knows it would be extraordinarily helpful with public and congressional support. The president will seek congressional approval -- in what form has not yet been determined.

"Democracies don't go to war lightly. Only if the public supports the cause will Congress follow."

According to the White House official, one strategy would go as follows: "The president and vice president will continue to make ... the case for pre-emptive military action. But this should not be taken as the administration making a decision about whether it will take pre-emptive action."

Bush, who traveled to Oklahoma and Arkansas for fund-raising trips Thursday, made no direct mention of Iraq, but cited the war on terrorism, telling Americans it would be a "long" battle.

Cheney speaks to veterans

The administration's public position on Iraq came from Cheney, who said there is "no doubt" that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and would "use them against our friends, against our allies, against us."

Speaking to a gathering of Korean War veterans in Texas, Cheney said Bush would consider "all possible options" in dealing with Iraq, but he insisted time was running out in the face of a "mortal threat."

Vice President Dick Cheney says Bush will
Vice President Dick Cheney says Bush will "consult widely" with Congress about Iraq.  

"We must not simply look away, hope for the best and leave the matter for some future administration to resolve," Cheney said.

The vice president said Bush would "consult widely" with Congress and U.S. allies.

"He welcomes the debate that has been joined here at home and he has made it clear to his national security team that he wants us to participate fully in the hearings that will be held in Congress next month on this vitally important issue," Cheney said.

Cheney's speech Thursday followed an address Monday in which he said the United States can't wait until Iraq obtains nuclear weapons before taking action.

A senior aide, familiar with the vice president's thinking, said the speeches were not in response to growing criticism at home and abroad of a possible military attack on Iraq.

"We are not sending out signals," the official said. This top aide said the goal is to continue to reiterate the argument so "people know what the debate is all about." The official said Bush "should not make the case" until he has made a decision about how to bring an end to Saddam's leadership.

The official added that the vice president had always planned to lay out the reasons for regime change in his Monday speech, but added that he was "not ignorant of the environment" and therefore addressed some of the criticism coming from members of the president's own party.

-- White House Correspondents Kelly Wallace and Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report




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