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Wednesday, 18 September, 2002, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Bush condemns Iraqi 'ploy'
UN weapons inspectors leaving Iraq
Weapons inspectors have been invited back to Iraq
President Bush says the United States and the international community will not fall for what he calls the "rhetoric" of Iraq's offer to let UN weapons inspectors back in.

(The Iraqi offer) is not going to fool anybody

President Bush

He was speaking after meeting congressional leaders at the White House, in an effort to secure domestic backing for a tough stance on Iraq.

Mr Bush - who dismissed the Iraqi offer as a "ploy" - is seeking a Congressional resolution which would grant him the power to take military action.

After early morning talks with Congressional leaders on Wednesday, President Bush said the proposed congressional resolution would be unveiled within days.

"It's an important signal for the world to see that this country is united in our resolve to deal with threats that we face," he said.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is now testifying before a US House of Representatives Committee on the Bush administration's plans for Iraq.

Urging Congress to give the Bush administration immediate support for a possible US. military strike against Iraq, Mr Rumsfeld said: "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."

Previous offers

Mr Bush again dismissed Iraq's offer on Monday to readmit arms inspectors.

B2 bomber
The US is deploying B2s stealth bombers
He said Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had made similar offer in the past, but has always refused unfettered access to the inspectors.

"This is a tactic," Mr Bush said. "It's not going to fool anybody."

Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle - who was among the senior members of Congress attending a breakfast meeting with the president - has said a Senate vote on Iraq is expected to take place well ahead of the congressional elections on 5 November.

Mr Daschle has also dismissed Iraq's offer as "nothing more than an effort to divert the attention and the resolve and the commitment of the United Nations".

Council split

Baghdad's agreement to allow arms inspectors to return "without conditions" appears to have split the UN Security Council.

President George W Bush
Bush wants freedom to take military action

The US is continuing to push for a new resolution backed up by the threat of military action - a position supported by the UK, which has expressed scepticism about the Iraqi offer.

However Russia said no new resolution was necessary, and urged the "speedy return" of inspectors to Iraq.

The US, the UK and Russia, as permanent members of the Security Council, wield the power of veto.

The other two permanent members are China, which welcomed the offer, and France, which said the council "must hold Saddam Hussein to his word".

The BBC's UN correspondent, Jon Leyne, says Iraq's move has caused more confusion at the UN than its defiance ever did.

The Security Council met in private on Tuesday, but members could not even decide when to begin discussing the Iraq situation, our correspondent said.

Open in new window : Who backs war?
Where key nations stand on Iraq

Meanwhile, Pope John Paul II welcomed Iraq's offer as "good news". At his weekly general audience on Wednesday, he urged pilgrims to pray for peace.

"Pray so that the Lord might enlighten world leaders, open and support the small glimmer, and lead humanity already suffering from so many ills toward living together free from war and from being overwhelmed by violence," he said.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz has said Baghdad's pledge to readmit weapons inspectors had removed any justification for a US-led attack.

The BBC's Kim Ghattas in Baghdad says that after weeks of mounting tension ordinary Iraqis have breathed a sigh of relief, and believe that war has been delayed.

Despite the diplomatic moves, the US is continuing to shift military hardware close to Iraq, apparently in preparation for a possible strike.

Steve Kingstone reports from Washington
"This does not look like an administration backing off"
Former UK Prime Minister John Major
"I think this is an old chestnut"
Ali Muhsen Hamid, Arab league ambassador to London
"Why should we put Iraq in the dock?"

Key stories





See also:

18 Sep 02 | Media reports
17 Sep 02 | Middle East
18 Sep 02 | Politics
18 Sep 02 | Americas
18 Sep 02 | Middle East
17 Sep 02 | Americas
16 Sep 02 | Americas
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