WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration expressed support on Tuesday for a new U.N. resolution on Iraq, calling it desirable but not mandatory before launching military action.
"The president's preference at all times is to do things with the most international support possible. But if there is insufficient support, it will not stop the president and the coalition that is forming from defending our interests if necessary," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.
The comments came hours before President Bush delivers his State of the Union speech in which he will prepare anxious Americans for a possible war with Iraq.
Bush is not expected to detail new evidence of Baghdad's suspected weapons of mass destruction in Tuesday's speech. But Fleischer said the administration would release "additional information in the time period ahead."
U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, passed in November, states that the council has repeatedly warned Iraq it would face "serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations" but does not specifically authorize military attack.
Some Security Council members want a second U.N. resolution before any strike is launched against Iraq, if it were to defy the first resolution.
Fleischer said it was "premature to say in finality" whether a new resolution would be offered, but added: "It's desirable but it is not mandatory."
"The president very much believes in working together with our friends and allies," he added. "He will understand and respect those who, in the end, decide to go a separate way."
The administration said on Monday that a report from chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix showed Iraq has failed to meet U.N. demands for disarmament of weapons of mass destruction, and warned the inspections process was "running out of time."
As part of a final phase of consultations, Bush will meet later this week with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the White House said. Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller will be at the White House on Feb. 5. More consultations and meetings are expected as a decision nears.
"The consultation business is a serious business. Reaching out to the Europeans is a serious business... Most see it similar to the president," Fleischer said.
Fleischer's comments on a second U.N. resolution echoed those by Secretary of State Colin Powell in an interview this week with a Dutch newspaper.
"If we were to really take military action, it would of course be a lot better if the whole international community supported it," Powell told evening newspaper NRC Handelsblad.
"If the Security Council comes up with a resolution that repeats elements contained in (resolution) 1441 -- that is consistent with it -- that would give extra authority. Then it would be easier for a lot of countries to join in and there would be a broader coalition," he told the NRC on Monday.
Powell said he would welcome such a resolution, "but it's not a condition to start military action. I have consulted a lot of European and other countries, and even without a second resolution it will certainly not be a solo action by the U.S."
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