President Bush moved a step closer yesterday to congressional approval for a war against Saddam Hussein. Leaders of the House of Representatives agreed a resolution permitting him to use US armed forces "as necessary and appropriate" to defend the country against the security threat posed by Iraq.
Hailing the deal at a ceremony attended by members of Congress from both parties, Mr Bush served notice that Baghdad now had a limited period in which to comply with United Nations resolutions and warned that the use of force could become "unavoidable".
"The regime will know that full compliance with all UN Security Council demands is the only choice and the time remaining for that choice is limited. Saddam must disarm – period," Mr Bush declared.
Strong domestic backing, in the shape of a united Congress, is seen in Washington as essential to persuade the UN to pass a tough new resolution. "Today sends a powerful message to Saddam Hussein," Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said.
So far, the White House has failed to strike a deal with the Democrat-controlled Senate, where reservations about the use of force, especially without UN approval, are stronger than in the House, where Republicans hold a majority.
But the signs were that Mr Bush would ultimately prevail there. Joe Biden, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, admitted as much, even as he criticised the Democratic leader in the House, Richard Gephardt, for agreeing so hastily to the new draft.
Both the House and Senate were starting debate on the Iraq crisis last night. In the Senate, too, the text – which makes clear that the use of force pertains only to Iraq – is expected to be tabled.
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