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Bush Will Justify Decision Before Attacking Iraq, say Aides - 2002-08-18

The debate over what to do about Iraq is getting an extensive airing on American television. Administration officials are defending the president's approach to Baghdad.

A top White House aide says if President Bush opts for military action, he will clearly explain his decision to Americans.

Dan Bartlett, the president's communication director, told ABC television's This Week>/i> that Mr. Bush understands the need to make his case before sending U.S. troops into harm's way.

"And you will find, because of the abysmal record of Saddam Hussein and the threat that he causes in the region, and to us as well, that we will have support," he said.

Some members of Congress have suggested that the president should start speaking out now, to prepare the public for possible warfare and likely casualties. But Mr. Bartlett cautioned no decision has been made, indicating the White House believes any such moves would be premature.

"The president hasn't asked for support because he hasn't made up his mind," he said.

Mr. Bartlett predicted other countries would rally to, what he called, "a noble cause." At the moment, however, there are few signs of support from U.S. allies in Europe and the Middle East.

Appearing on NBC television's Meet the Press, Senator Richard Lugar, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said America needs the backing of NATO member countries. The Indiana Republican said it will be very difficult to put a coalition together, but it must be done.

"The fact is some robust diplomacy is required," he said. "These coalitions don't happen by chance or by press release. They happen because we sort of lay down the score."

Iraq is one issue on which even congressional members of the president's own party seem to be in disagreement. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma told Meet the Press that time for talk is running out and action should be taken soon against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "Let's stop and think. We are talking this thing to death!" he said.

The Bush administration has long maintained that Iraq's intentions to develop and acquire weapons of mass destruction pose a grave threat to America and the world. In an interview broadcast Thursday, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said there is a "very powerful moral" case for action against Saddam Hussein. She called him an "evil man" who would not hesitate to use weapons of mass destruction.

Ms. Rice will be consulting with President Bush over the coming days at his Texas ranch. On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will go to the ranch for discussions of pending military matters, such as the defense budget.