The meeting, called by Bush late yesterday, would tee up debate expected to begin in the Senate as soon as tomorrow afternoon on whether to authorize the use of military force to disarm and dislodge Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
The House plans to begin debate on a resolution next week.
Further outlines of the debate took shape yesterday, with congressional researchers estimating that it could cost the United States as much as $13 billion to deploy its forces to the Persian Gulf and as much as $9 billion monthly to wage war against Iraq. The bipartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that if a war toppled Saddam, the United States would then spend between $1 billion and $4 billion a month to occupy Iraq. The current war in Afghanistan is costing about $2 billion a month.
It also could cost as much as $7 billion to return U.S. forces and equipment home, plus as much as $4 billion per month for a postwar occupation force, Congress’ budget analysts said.
Key senators from both parties suggested specific resolution language that would give Bush broad leeway in deciding whether to attack.
Bush has asked Congress to approve a resolution authorizing the use of all necessary means, including military attacks, to confront Saddam and his alleged efforts to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
Resolution language proposed jointly by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., and ranking member Richard Lugar, R-Ind., would allow Bush to use force — even without U.N. support — if he determined that Iraq’s weapons program posed a threat “so grave that the use of force is necessary.”
The United States and Britain also are preparing to circulate among U.N. Security Council members the draft of a tough resolution that would require Saddam to disarm or face military strikes. At least two veto-holding Security Council members — Russia and France — are opposed to a resolution authorizing military attacks against Iraq.
France has suggested a resolution requiring only that Saddam submit to tough new U.N. weapons inspections. If that fails, then the Security Council would debate a second resolution calling for the use of force, under the French plan.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has rejected that approach.
“There have to be consequences,” Powell said yesterday on PBS’ “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” program. “We’re going to argue and fight for that position.”
Meanwhile, the administration dismissed Russian charges that U.S. and British attacks on Iraqi air defenses were creating “obstacles” in diplomatic efforts to avert war.
U.S. and British pilots patrolling the skies over Iraq fire only in self-defense, countered Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who shrugged off the Russian charges as “nonsensical.”
Iraqis have fired on U.S. and British pilots 406 times this year, said Rumsfeld, who showed video tapes yesterday of Iraqi anti-aircraft fire aimed at U.S. F-16s and a surface-to-air missile fired at a U.S. unmanned reconnaissance plane. The incidents took place a year or more ago.