In the U.S Congress, Democrats and Republicans are closing ranks behind a resolution authorizing use of force against Iraq. Congressional leaders believe the House and Senate will overwhelmingly approve the measure next week.

The resolution would authorize President Bush to use force against Iraq that he determines necessary and appropriate to defend the United States and to enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions on Iraq.

It also requires a presidential report to Congress before any military strike, if feasible, or within 48 hours of U.S. attack that diplomatic and other peaceful means failed.

Mr. Bush reached agreement with members of the House of Representatives Wednesday morning, and momentum quickly grew. A group of bipartisan senators, led by Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, introduced the resolution on the Senate floor hours later.

"This resolution is our attempt to express our support of the president as commander in chief in seeking international backing for action against Saddam," said Lieberman. "It is also a way to strengthen the president's hand as commander in chief if Saddam does not comply or the United Nations is not willing to take action to enforce its orders."

Mr. Bush invited congressional leaders to the White House as a show of unity on the issue. "As the vote nears I urge all members of Congress to consider this resolution with the greatest of care," emphasized Mr. Bush. "The choice before them could not be more consequential."

Speaking at the White House ceremony, House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt, pointed out that the resolution addresses the demands of many Democrats. "These include assurances by the president that he has exhausted diplomatic means to address this threat, and that any military action against Iraq will not undermine our ongoing efforts in the war against terrorism," he said.

But many other Democrats and even some moderate Republicans are not happy with the resolution, preferring to have stricter limits on the president's authority to use force.

Some Democrats, including Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, are considering offering alternative resolutions.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said he would prefer a measure with more emphasis on eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and a clearer assessment of administration plans for the political and economic reconstruction of Iraq if Saddam Hussein is toppled.

Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the committee's top Republican, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, drafted a resolution that would put more emphasis on a U.N. role and make disarmament the only reason for confronting Iraq. Senator Biden dropped plans to have his committee consider the measure, but may offer it as an amendment during Senate debate.

But congressional leaders of both parties believe there is little support for alternate resolutions, and that in the end, President Bush will get the authority he is seeking.