WASHINGTON -- President Bush pledged Wednesday to seek congressional approval before taking action against Saddam Hussein, and told wary U.S. allies their "credibility is at stake" as they decide whether to back his plans.
"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 in the Cabinet Room. "Doing nothing about that serious threat is not an option for the United States."
Fresh off a monthlong working vacation in Crawford, Texas, Bush opened what he said would be a series of consultations with lawmakers and U.S. allies, including a speech to the United Nations next week that he said would build on his case against Saddam.
"Today, the process starts," Bush said.
"At the appropriate time, the administration will go to the Congress and seek approval for the necessary (steps) to deal with the threat," Bush said.
Asked if he was giving Congress veto authority, Bush said he was confident he could work with lawmakers on the issue.
Though he billed next week's U.N. speech as an important outline of his intentions, Bush would not say whether he would issue Iraq an ultimatum or whether he would demand weapons inspectors be admitted to the nation.
"This issue is not inspectors. The issue is disarmament," Bush said.
"This is a man who said he would not arm up. He told the world he would not harbor weapons of mass destruction," Bush said, adding that the primary issue is Saddam's access to weapons of mass destruction.
"I'll be discussing ways to make sure that is not the case," he said.
"For 11 long years, Saddam Hussein has sidestepped, crawfished, wheedled out of any agreements he had made not to develop weapons of mass destruction," the president said. "So I'm going to call upon the world to recognize that he is stifling the world. And I will lay out and I will talk about ways to make sure he follows up on his agreements."
The president's meeting with top Democratic and Republican lawmakers -- including leaders of the Intelligence, Armed Services and International Relations committees -- comes amid increasing signals that Bush is ready to go public with a fuller picture of what the United States knows about Saddam's weapons capabilities.
Bush aimed his remarks at reluctant U.S. allies as well as lawmakers.
"The world must understand its credibility is at stake," he said.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said before the meeting that Bush was not discussing military actions with the lawmakers because he has not decided whether to go that route.
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