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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Drums Up Congressional Backing

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President George W. Bush, taken aback by Iraq's offer to let UN arms inspectors return, said Wednesday that congressional leaders had pledged to pass a resolution soon backing tough action against Baghdad.

The resolution will be "an important signal for the world to see that this country is united in our resolve to deal with threats that we face," Bush told reporters after meeting leading U.S. lawmakers.

The Iraqi offer, made Monday under mounting international pressure, has divided the UN Security Council and weakened Bush's drive for a new, strong mandate from the world body for unfettered inspections backed by the threat of force.

Bush urged the United Nations "not to be fooled" by Baghdad's offer, but Russia, the Arab world and many other countries welcomed it, saying that it ruled out threatened U.S. military action against Baghdad.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, echoing Bush's call for a strong signal to Iraq, urged Congress to give the administration immediate support for a possible U.S. military strike on Iraq.

"No terrorist state poses a greater and more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq," Rumsfeld told the House Armed Services Committee.

UN arms inspectors, barred by Iraq for nearly four years, are ready to return as soon as the Security Council gives the go-ahead and will meet Iraqi officials in Vienna in about 10 days to discuss practical details, the International Atomic Energy Agency said.

Washington wants the Security Council to give the inspectors stronger powers than in the 1990s, when they complained that the Iraqis hindered and deceived them in their search for weapons of mass destruction. Iraq accused them of spying for Washington.

On Tuesday the Security Council was split between governments that wanted to accept the Iraqi offer and those that thought Baghdad would again hinder the inspectors and saw the priority as disarming Iraq at any cost.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged world powers to keep up pressure on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"It's the pressure that has brought him to this position," Blair told BBC television. "We have got to keep up the pressure and make sure the weapons inspectors actually go in, not that he says they will go in, but that they actually go in and that they can do their job."

Words of welcome for the Iraqi decision came Wednesday from Pope John Paul, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Iran and Syria, all expressing the hope that Baghdad's action had removed the risk of conflict.

An editorial in the Syrian daily Tishreen said the Iraqi move "has cut off the road ahead of those hotheads in the United States who are planning to drown the region in blood and destruction."

Many Arabs complain of what they see as U.S. hypocrisy in enforcing Iraqi compliance with UN resolutions while failing to implement Security Council decisions on Israel's military occupation of Arab land.

Bush insisted Tuesday that the Security Council "must not be fooled" by Baghdad's offer and must still compel Iraq to accept full inspections or face the use of UN-backed force.

Russia disagreed, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov telling a news conference: "We don't need any special resolution."