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State of the Union Address Tuesday to Focus On Iraq - 2003-01-26

U.S. President George W. Bush is putting the finishing touches on his State of the Union address. The White House said Tuesday's speech will focus on challenges facing the United States, both at home and abroad.

When President Bush goes before Congress and the American people Tuesday night, he will deliver what many consider to be one of the most important speeches of his presidency.

In this State of the Union address, he will seek to convince the public of the need for urgent action to counter the Iraqi threat. At the same time, he will try to build support for his handling of the nation's economy. "We have great challenges. And he knows, and he is going to talk about, how the American people are equal to the task," said White House Communications Chief Dan Bartlett on CNN's Late Edition.

He noted that in last year's address, the president outlined the dangers posed by so-called "rogue regimes" that could pass weapons of mass destruction on to terrorists. The White House official indicated the president will expand on that theme this year, stressing that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has a relationship with terrorist organizations.

"This is the type of scenario, where we cannot afford to wait to the last minute. We cannot let this threat materialize to the point, where there is nothing we can do about it," Mr. Bartlett said.

The president will deliver this all-important address one day after U.N. weapons inspectors deliver their report to the Security Council - a report many in the administration see as a critical measure of Iraqi cooperation. The president is likely to discuss the report in his speech, but aides stress there will be no declaration of war.

Congressional Democrats say they want President Bush to lay out a detailed case for a possible attack on Iraq, one strong enough to erase doubts about the need for quick action.

During an appearance on the CBS television program Face the Nation, the top Democrat in the Senate, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, said Mr. Bush has a tough job ahead. "I think the president needs to make a compelling case that Iraq poses a very imminent threat to the United States and that, secondly, he has worked through the international community, and exhausted all other options," Mr. Daschle said.

While Mr. Bush's comments on Iraq may get the most attention around the world, the president is likely to devote the majority of his address to the types of issues that affect the everyday lives of Americans, most notably the economy and the high cost of health care.

In a break with tradition, the Democratic response will not be delivered by a leading member of the legislature. Washington State Governor Gary Locke will speak for his party.