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Bush ready to act without Congress

President Bush said Monday that he would meet with leaders of Congress today to discuss the Persian Gulf crisis, but he added that he would have "no hesitancy" about ordering an attack on Iraq without congressional approval. "I know the authorities that the president has," Bush said during a brief airport press conference before leaving San Francisco. "History is replete with examples where the president has had to take action" without congressional approval.

He added, "I've done this in the past, would have no hesitancy at all" about doing so again.

Bush insisted that a peaceful solution to the gulf crisis remains possible, but he offered a gloomy assessment of the most recent round of attempts at diplomacy.

"I haven't seen anything to convince me that there's anything positive," Bush said. He was referring to the weekend meetings between Saddam Hussein and Soviet envoy Yevgeny Primakov, and the talks on the gulf between Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and French President Francois Mitterand.

Gorbachev, he added, "is holding just as firm as he can" in support of the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq. "That's good," he added. "That sends a strong signal that the free world is united against this dictator."

Bush's reference to the Soviets as part of the "free world" appears to have been the first time he has used the venerable Cold War phrase to embrace the Soviets. The choice of wording underlines how much the administration now sees the Soviets as an ally in the fight against Iraq.

The meeting with congressional leaders, which Bush said he would "look forward" to, could be a difficult session given Bush's remarks about presidential authority to send troops into battle.

The Constitution gives Congress the sole power to "declare war," but makes the president the "commander in chief" of the armed forces. Since World War II, successive presidents have claimed the commander-in-chief status gives them power to send troops into combat without congressional approval. Both the Vietnam and Korean wars, along with smaller conflicts over the last four decades, were conducted without a congressional declaration of war.

After the end of the war in Vietnam, Congress passed the War Powers Act, a law designed to restrict the president's power to put troops in harm's way without congressional authorization. The law was passed over the veto of then-President Ford. He and his successors _ Democratic and Republican _ have always questioned the constitutionality of the statute.

Since passing the law, however, Congress has shied away from putting it to the test. And in the current conflict, Bush and congressional leaders both have sidestepped the law, in large part because members of Congress hesitated to challenge a popular president pursuing what has been a popular foreign policy.

Now, however, Bush's popularity has slumped, the popularity of his gulf policy has begun to erode and the first stirrings of restlessness on Capitol Hill have begun to surface. Some 80 members of Congress, led by Rep. Ron Dellums, D-Calif., wrote to Bush over the weekend opposing any move to open hostilities without congressional approval.

U.S. hints of military action

In a hint that the Bush administration may be considering some new action soon against Iraq, Secretary of State James Baker warned Monday that "Saddam Hussein must realize there is a limit to the international community's patience."

Baker, in a toughly worded speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, repeatedly emphasized that the United States may have to resort to military action in the Persian Gulf.

"All options are being considered," he said. "And let no one doubt: We will not rule out a possible use of force if Iraq continues to occupy Kuwait."

Baker's speech seemed designed to emphasize once again that the Bush administration will not accept any deal that gives Iraq a part of Kuwaiti territory.

"We are not going to appease this aggression," Baker said. ". . . The United States opposes any attempt to reward Iraq for its aggression _ even if it (Iraq) plans the siren song of a "partial solution.' "

The secretary described the stakes in the gulf standoff in the broadest possible terms, arguing that the future of the world depends on the outcome.

"It is a vital struggle in which we and the international community must prevail," Baker said. Iraq's aggression, he said, is a challenge to world peace, to stability in the Middle East and to the global economy.

"This struggle is about the kind of world we want to live in, the kind of nation we are and the kind of legacy we want to leave for our children," Baker said.

"The Cold War is over. We fought and we sacrificed and persisted for over 40 years because we would not accept a world that was safe for the likes of Josef Stalin. The American people have not come this long, hard way to make the world safe for the likes of Saddam Hussein."

Baker saved his harshest rhetoric for Iraq's treatment of the Kuwaiti people.

"It is a story of barbarism in its most crude and evil form, the rape of Kuwait," he said. He described accounts of Iraqi soldiers summarily shooting two Kuwaiti children and of other soldiers releasing lions and tigers from the Kuwait City zoo.

Baker also took care to warn the Iraqi leader once again that there would be massive retaliation against any Iraqi use of chemical weapons. Hussein, the secretary said, "must realize, and I'd like to stress this point, that should he use chemical or biological weapons, there will be the most severe consequences."

Hussein says talks rewarding

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein said Monday his talks with a Soviet envoy were rewarding, but he has not changed his position.

"Meetings are always useful," Saddam said in an interview with CNN correspondents in Baghdad.

He referred to his discussions with Yevgeny Primakov, Middle East adviser to Gorbachev.

Primakov has been reported as saying his discussions with Hussein produced little movement. But Gorbachev has said there were signs of flexibility on Hussein's part.

Calling his discussions with Primakov "wide-ranging and very useful," Hussein declined to give specifics, saying only that Primakov would have to make the first statements.

As he has in the past, Saddam said his troops have no intention of leaving Kuwait, which they occupied on Aug. 2. Any fighting, he said, would be the result of what he called aggression by the United States, Britain or Israel.

The Iraqi leader said he hoped war would not break out and "if the Americans were to opt away from war, then they will establish a strong position for itself and humanity."

At one point he was asked if he would enjoy fishing with President Bush, a sport both men are fond of.

"I have no objection to looking into this proposition," he said. But he said he would like a meeting with Bush only if it meant a substantive discussion.

French hostages arrive home

More than 260 former French hostages arrived home Tuesday morning almost three months after Iraq invaded Kuwait, some of them bringing tales of harsh detention of Westerners who have been held as "human shields" by the Iraqi regime.

Pierre Sanchez, who described himself as "one of the privileged" hostages who stayed in Baghdad, said those held captive at strategic military and industrial sites "have it very difficult."

"It is especially hard for the Americans and the British hostages there, who are really being treated like prisoners of war. They only got to walk and exercise two hours a day," Sanchez said, reporting what he learned from other French citizens who were held at those sites.

As they filed out of the plane and through the baggage claim area, most of the hostages avoided contact with the press. The few who spoke were discreet, expressing concern about endangering the fate of the other foreigners who remained under the control of Iraqi authorities.

"How were we treated?" replied a young Frenchman who declined to give his name. "Like all people treated by (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein _ in a variety of ways." He added that "some of the ones left behind are not in good condition."

Iraq unilaterally decided last week to release all French hostages in gratitude for what it described as the country's "constructive" stance since the Persian Gulf crisis began. The move was widely interpreted as an effort to split the international alliance against Iraq.

New Iraq resolution is passed

The United Nations Security Council overwhelmingly approved a resolution on Monday laying the groundwork for a seizure of impounded Iraqi assets.

The latest resolution, intended to increase pressure on Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, warned that if the Iraqis continued to disregard council demands, the world organization would take "further measures under the Charter." This could include the use of military force, but this was not explicitly mentioned.

The new resolution declares Iraq responsible for all damage and personal injuries resulting from its occupation of Kuwait and asks nations to prepare claims for financial compensation and submit evidence of human rights violations by Iraqi forces there.

The final vote showed 13 members in favor, while Yemen, the council's only Arab member, and Cuba abstained. The vote was postponed from last Saturday while President Mikhail S. Gorbachev of the Soviet Union sent a high-level envoy on another mission to Baghdad.

U.S., allies to discuss force

The Bush administration plans to hold high-level talks with U.S. allies in Europe and the Persian Gulf within a week to discuss a timetable for possible use of military force to drive Saddam Hussein's army from Kuwait, sources said Monday.

With administration officials increasingly convinced that U.N. sanctions will not force Iraq to withdraw, Secretary of State Baker will visit Europe, Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations, perhaps as early as this weekend, to assess the current status of the trade embargo and consider additional steps, including a military offensive, the sources said.

A senior government official in Washington said if the United States were to exclude the military option, "it would be hard to find a scenario with any link to reality." He added that the most likely time for a U.S. offensive would be in December or January, "although it could come earlier or a little later."

The official, who is involved in gulf strategy, indicated he considered war almost inevitable and said, "I know of no one who disagrees with my assessment of the situation and what we have to do to achieve our goals."

In Washington and Saudi Arabia, senior U.S. officials, who agreed to interviews on condition they not be identified, said the time is fast approaching when a decision must be made on how long to give sanctions.

And a Washington official said Baker's and Bush's speeches in California may be the beginning of an effort to prepare the American public for war.

Hussein: Iraq won't back off

President Saddam Hussein of Iraq said on Monday that he has no intention of withdrawing his troops from Kuwait, despite the growing forces mounting against him.

"If an embargo would force the American people to withdraw from the last state that was linked to the United States _ say Hawaii _ then the same standards, if they were to be applied, would probably lead the Iraqis to consider withdrawal from Kuwait," he said.

In an interview with Cable News Network in Baghdad, Hussein said that Iraq was seeking to avoid war, but that he was "confident of victory in the end" if hostilities broke out.

"The United States has expressed its position. We have expressed ours. And we still stand by our position," he said. "We are working to avoid a military confrontation, but it seems there are those who are in fact working for military confrontation to occur."

Hussein blamed Israel, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain, and President Bush, in that order, for the crisis in the Persian Gulf.

"It seems to us both Israel and Mrs. Thatcher are trying to push Mr. Bush into that dangerous and grave quagmire," he said during the 75-minute interview.

While calling for a diplomatic solution to the conflict, Saddam also sounded several belligerent notes.

Hussein said that two sets of meetings over the weekend with a special Soviet envoy sent by President Mikhail Gorbachev had yielded "a useful exchange of views" and that "a dialogue is continuing."

The Iraqi president refused, though, to discuss any details with the envoy, Yevgeny Primakov, who was quoted as expressing disappointment at the outcome of the talks.

When asked if war would soon erupt, Hussein replied: "Nothing is worse than war but to be deprived of liberty, dignity, honor, and security. If the Arabs and the Iraqis feared war, and as a result of this war they were to lose all the values which I have referred to, then the Arabs would have relinquished their own humanity."

Hussein ridiculed the numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions condemning Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait, when similar resolutions against Israel have gone unheeded.

Iraq is said to offer plan

Yemen's foreign minister said on Monday that Iraq had offered to release all foreign hostages immediately if President Francois Mitterrand of France and President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union would publicly endorse their commitment to seek a diplomatic, rather than a military, solution to the Persian Gulf crisis.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdel-Karim Iryani said he was told of the offer by Tariq Aziz, Iraq's foreign minister.

The Yemeni official quoted Aziz as saying the meeting between Hussein and a Soviet special envoy "was not as negative as reported." Moreover, Iryani said, Aziz told him that "to keep the discussions going," Iraq had given Primakov a "new proposal" aimed at achieving a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

Gorbachev referred obliquely to a new Iraqi initiative Monday after his meeting with Mitterrand, adding that there seemed to be some positive movement on the part of Iraq.

Crates and boxes containing military supplies for use in Operation Desert Shield stack up at a Saudi air base. In the last 80 days, the soldiers have unloaded 42,000 pieces of equipment, ammunition pallets and food crates from 101 ships and 677 airplanes.