CAMP DAVID -- President Bush said yesterday that it would be "nice" to have congressional approval for a military strike against Iraq but that he is prepared to proceed without it if force proves the only way to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.
"I'd love to see Congress say this minute that we fully endorse the United Nations resolutions and that the president should fully implement them," Mr. Bush said, referring to the U.N. demand that Iraq withdraw from Kuwait by Jan. 15 or face forcible ejection. "Because I'm determined to do that," he continued, "and it would be very nice to send that solid signal out to Saddam Hussein."
But if Congress proves unwilling or unable to endorse such action, Mr. Bush indicated he would go ahead anyway.
"I know the powers of the presidency, and I've had a chance to discuss that with key members of the Congress," he said at joint news conference here with British Prime Minister John Major.
The president's comments came during what is scheduled to be his last public appearance until both he and the lawmakers return to Washington after the first of the year.
His remarks followed a week of inclusive talks on the issue of whether Congress should hold a session following its swearing-in Jan. 3 to consider some kind of war resolution.
Mr. Bush believes that prior congressional approval for a military strike against Iraq would be of benefit politically but is not a legal requirement, a senior administration official explained Friday.
And even the political benefits would be eroded, the official said, if the United States became embroiled in a lengthy, unpopular conflict with Iraq. He said history suggests the costs of such a war would be blamed on President Bush regardless of what Congress said about it in advance.
As expected, President Bush found an unequivocal ally for his Persian Gulf stance in Mr. Major, who visited the president at his Maryland mountaintop retreat just three weeks after succeeding Margaret Thatcher.
The two men spent much of their car ride up from Washington Friday and dinner that night discussing the problem of how to get Mr. Hussein to take their threats of military action seriously, Mr. Major told reporters at Andrews Air Force base before he flew back to London yesterday.
The prime minister was more critical of U.S. policy in the recently failed world trade talks and won an agreement from Mr. Bush that "all sides" need to show "some flexibility." The two leaders called for a resumption next month of negotiations on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).