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Bush Administration Prefers UN Approval Before Iraq Action, But Says It's Not Needed - 2003-01-28

President Bush will address the nation Tuesday night to try and build support for possible military action in Iraq. The administration says it would prefer a second U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force, but the president is prepared to act without it.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said there will be no declaration of war in Tuesday's State of the Union address. But he said President Bush will call for urgent action to eliminate the threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Some U.S. allies say any use of force against Iraq should first be approved by the Security Council. Mr. Fleischer said that would be "desirable but not mandatory."

He said it is premature to say whether there would be sufficient support for a second U.N. resolution. But if there is not, Mr. Fleischer said, that will not stop the president from acting alone if necessary.

In a statement to reporters Tuesday morning, Mr. Bush did not mention Iraq by name. He said he will use his second State of the Union address to discuss what he calls "the great challenges" facing the nation. "I will talk about our deep desire for peace, peace not only here at home but peace in troubled regions of the world. I will talk about our plan to spread prosperity throughout America," Mr. Bush said.

His nationwide address comes at a time of declining opinion poll numbers for Mr. Bush, with some surveys showing less than half of all Americans believe the president's policies will lead the country in the right direction. One poll shows popular support for his foreign policy at about 50 percent, down from 59 percent in November.

The president's speech before a joint session of Congress is a chance to rally international support against Iraq. The White House had hoped to gain some momentum from Monday's briefing by U.N. weapons inspectors, who say Baghdad has still not answered key questions about long-range missiles and chemical weapons.

Security Council members Russia, France, Syria, Germany and China say the inspections are working and should be given more time. Mr. Fleischer said the president has no timeline for the United Nations but warns that "time is running out" for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Fleischer said much of the State of the Union address will focus on the president's domestic agenda, including tax cuts, medical malpractice reform, and a prescription drug plan for older Americans. The president said he looks forward to giving the speech. "It is a moment where I will rally the American people to some great causes and remind them that we will accomplish those causes together," Mr. Bush said.

Looking ahead to the speech, members of the Democratic Party leadership say the president's economic plan unfairly favors the rich by eliminating taxes on corporate dividends. They say Mr. Bush is moving too fast on Iraq and should give inspectors more time to finish their work.