Bush Wins Support on Iraq; Congress Leaders Back Language on resolution.(PAGE ONE)

Article excerpt

Byline: Bill Sammon and Dave Boyer, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

President Bush yesterday reached agreement with three of the four top congressional leaders on language for a resolution against Iraq, warning "the use of force may become unavoidable."

In a significant victory for the administration, Mr. Bush won the support of all leaders except Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. The president celebrated by surrounding himself with a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both houses of Congress in the Rose Garden of the White House.

"The issue is now before the United States Congress," he declared. "This debate will be closely watched by the American people, and this debate will be remembered in history."

He added: "As the vote nears, I urge all members of Congress to consider this resolution with the greatest of care. The choice before them could not be more consequential."

In a concession to Democrats, Mr. Bush agreed to assure Congress before launching an attack - or within 48 hours afterward - that diplomatic measures were insufficient to eradicate weapons of mass destruction from Saddam Hussein's regime.

"In Baghdad, the regime will know that full compliance with all U.N. security demands is the only choice and the time remaining for that choice is limited," the president warned. "Saddam must disarm, period."

Unlike Mr. Daschle, who held out for further changes in the language of the resolution, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, joined Mr. Bush at yesterday's ceremony and was invited to the presidential podium.

"We disagree on many domestic issues, but this is the most important thing that we do," Mr. Gephardt said. "This should not be about politics. We have to do what is right for the security of our nation and the safety of all Americans."

Just last week, Mr. Gephardt joined Mr. Daschle in accusing the president of politicizing the debate over Iraq. But with Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat, under fire for savaging Mr. Bush while in Baghdad last week, Mr. Gephardt scrambled to side with the president.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, said the president made an "eloquent, powerful and convincing statement" for action against Iraq during a White House breakfast yesterday with lawmakers, including Mr. Daschle.

Hours later, after skipping the South Lawn gathering, Mr. Daschle issued a statement saying he is "certain the Senate will adopt with broad bipartisan support a resolution that clearly provides the president the authority he needs to deal with Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction."

The House International Relations Committee was working on the resolution last night, and Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, predicted the panel will approve it today by a 2-to-1 margin. He said the resolution differs from an alternative proposed by Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, and Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, because the House measure does not bow to the United Nations.

"The resolution is protective of American sovereignty. It does not defer to the U.N.," Mr. Hyde said. "Senator Biden's resolution has excessive deference to the U. …