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President Bush Discusses Iraq Resolution with Congressional Leaders - 2002-10-01

President Bush met with Congressional leaders Tuesday as the two sides appear closer to an agreement on a resolution authorizing the use of U.S. force in Iraq. The meeting followed a suggestion by the president's spokesman that the assassination of Saddam Hussein by his own people would be cheaper than a war.

President Bush met with legislators from both parties who say a final text of the House resolution on Iraq could be reached by Wednesday.

California Democratic Congressman Howard Berman says it is a bipartisan effort to show the world that Washington speaks with one voice when it comes to Iraq. "We can help create a dynamic which produces the best possible Security Council resolution and recognizes that whether it is through diplomacy or whether it is going to have to be through military force, we are set on achieving the disarmament of his weapons of mass destruction," he said.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer Tuesday said if Saddam Hussein were sent into exile or killed by an Iraqi assassin, it would be much less expensive than U.S. military action. "The cost of war is more than that," said Ari Fleischer. "But there are many options that the president hopes the world and the people of Iraq will exercise themselves of to get rid of the threat."

Asked if he was calling on Iraqis to assassinate their leader, Mr. Fleischer said, "Regime change is welcome in whatever form it takes."

While the president appears closer to a House resolution on Iraq, he is opposing an alternate resolution in the Senate that would focus on countering weapons of mass destruction.

President Bush wants broader authority, as reflected in a draft resolution the White House sent to Congress, that demands the Iraqi leader also stop supporting terrorists, abusing ethnic minorities and threatening his neighbors.

That language is not part of an alternative resolution proposed by Republican Senator Richard Lugar and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Senator Joseph Biden. Their resolution focuses on action to eliminate weapons of mass destruction.

President Bush says that alternative resolution is not strong enough. "I don't want to get a resolution which ties my hands, a resolution which is weaker than that which was passed out of Congress in 1998. Congress in 1998 passed a very strong resolution," said President Bush. "They wisely recognized that Saddam Hussein is a threat. He was a threat in '98 and he is more of a threat four years later."

President Bush says the Iraqi leader has used that time to build-up supplies of chemical and biological weapons while continuing his pursuit of nuclear arms, all of which he says could be used in a terrorist attack.

Iraq says it does not have weapons of mass destruction and has agreed to the return of U.N. weapons inspectors to prove it.