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Bush in bid to win over Iraq war sceptics

Washington, Sept. 5 (Reuters): US President George W. Bush announced a campaign yesterday to convince sceptics at home and abroad that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s “outlaw regime” was developing weapons of mass destruction and needed to be disarmed.

Bush, who briefed leading US lawmakers, said he would lay out his plans to deal with the Iraqi leader in a speech at the UN next week and in consultations with the leaders of Britain, Russia, China, France and Canada.

Amid growing concerns from world capitals of a US war with Iraq, the White House reiterated that Bush had made no decision on whether to use military force to overthrow Saddam, accused by Washington of developing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Saddam appeared unbowed by threats of war and pressure for him to let weapons inspectors in, vowing his nation would defeat any military action and repeating that Iraq wanted an overall solution to the crisis based on UN resolutions.

Oil prices rallied on growing signs Washington was stepping up preparations for an attack on major producer Iraq, with benchmark Brent crude closing 53 cents firmer at $27.10 a barrel on London’s International Petroleum Exchange.

At a meeting with congressional leaders, some of whom have voiced fears of a protracted military engagement, Bush said that at the appropriate time he would ask Congress to approve any action on Iraq “necessary to deal with the threat.”

“Doing nothing about that serious threat is not an option,” declared the President, whom aides said may seek approval from Congress before mid-term elections in early November.

“We must not allow an outlaw regime that incites and uses terror at home and abroad to threaten the world by developing the ultimate weapons of terror,” Bush added.

In a letter to leading lawmakers, Bush said the decision was “how to disarm an outlaw regime that continues to possess and develop weapons of mass destruction,” and that he remained committed to “regime change” in Iraq. Bush said he would meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Saturday at Camp David to discuss the threat posed by Iraq and would phone leaders of China, Russia and France, all key members of the UN Security Council.

He will meet Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien on Monday and said he would also make his case in an address to the UN General Assembly in New York on September 12, a year and a day since the attacks that prompted his “war on terror.”

“I will first remind the United Nations that for 11 long years Saddam Hussein has sidestepped, crawfished, wheedled out of any agreement he made not to develop weapons of mass destruction,” Bush said.

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