WASHINGTON – The United Nations' chief weapons inspector is expected to meet Bush administration officials Friday, one day after a key House panel brought President Bush one step closer to getting authorization to use military force, if needed, against Iraq.
U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix met Friday with Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
His visit comes as the House International Relations Committee voted to put a far-reaching resolution at the foot of the full House for a vote.
Problems, however, persist in the Senate, which voted Thursday to limit debate on the resolution, but which still faces opposition from some Democrats.
Brushing aside amendments that critics said would have watered-down the president's authority, the committee voted 31-11 Thursday in favor of a resolution giving the president the power to use force against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein if he does not comply with all 16 U.N. Security Council agreements requiring him to disarm all his weapons of mass destruction.
The White House-backed agreement, worked out over the last several weeks, urges the president to seek Iraqi compliance through the United Nations, but authorizes him to take swift action -- with or without the United Nations -- against the regime if all efforts at compliance are exhausted. The measure requires the president to report to Congress within 48 hours of commencing an attack.
"We have no choice but to act as a sovereign country prepared to defend ourselves, with our friends and allies if possible, but alone if necessary," committee Chairman Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., said at the opening of the meeting.
It also stipulates that any attack against Iraq would not detract from the broader U.S. war on terrorism, confines any action to Iraq, and has nothing to do with a broader stabilization of the Middle East region -- a provision that members wanted to make clear before signing onto the resolution.
House Republicans successfully fought back several amendments, including those that would require the president to give Congress a full cost-analysis of a future military strike and the rebuilding of the Iraq after the war, before full authorization of an attack is given.
"The president has not spoken to this Congress to what may be an allocation of hundred[s] of billions of dollars. I think the American people have a right to know," said Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., arguing for the amendments. "We have to make sure that the information is available."
"We talk about audits? Give me a break," countered Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., shortly before the final vote.
Thursday's passage by the panel will lead to a vote by the full House next week, said officials.
In the Senate, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., attempted to filibuster the measure, severely stalling any move for a vote on a resolution. Byrd, who opposed authorizing force in the Persian Gulf War, said the resolution gives the president near-imperial war-making powers.
"The 'whereas' clauses are pretty. Aha, they are pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty 'whereas' clauses. But they are just window dressing. That's all. They're window dressing. They're just fig leaves, fig leaves. All that is necessary is the president's own determination," Byrd, a tireless defender of Senate authority, said.
Byrd's protestations aside, the Senate voted 95-1 to bring debate to an end. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said he expected a vote on a full measure early next week.
Daschle, who participated in the negotiations with the White House on the compromise proposal, said he still wants changes to the bill that would emphasize eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction over compliance with other U.N. resolutions and a clearer assessment of the administration's plans for a post-Saddam Iraq.
The White House-backed resolution faces a series of amendments and at least two competing bills, including an alternative by Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., which would emphasize the U.N. role and specify that force could be used against Iraq only to disarm it.
There is also a proposal by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., that would require the president to obtain U.N. approval before committing U.S. forces. Neither measure is expected to garner enough votes to win, according to officials in both parties.
The resolution passed by the House panel is backed by Senate heavy hitters like Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.
"We could have a draft a week until cows come home, but in the end, the president of the United States is going to be granted the authority that he needs to deal with this threat of weapons of mass destruction," Lott said.
With the support of Congress, Bush said, Iraq "will know that full compliance with all U.N. security demands is the only choice, and the time remaining for that choice is limited."
On the international front, U.S. officials at the United Nations say that they have four votes out of the 10 elected members of the Security Council -- Norway, Singapore, Bulgaria, and Colombia -- in favor of a strong U.S.-U.K. resolution demanding unfettered access for U.N. weapons inspectors with the goal of Iraqi disarmament. It also calls for military force if Iraq does not comply.
Resolutions require nine votes and no vetoes from the 15-member Security Council, which includes the five permanent veto-holding members: China, Russia, France, Britain, and the United States. So far, France and Russia have balked at approving a new resolution authorizing military action against Iraq. China has suggested it will abstain from a vote.
Frustrated after Russia suggested again Thursday that a new resolution is unnecessary, Bush suggested the United States could get a coalition together to enforce tough action against Saddam without the help of the United Nations.
"The choice is up [to] the United Nations to show its resolve. The choice is up to Saddam Hussein to fulfill his word," Bush said. "And if neither of them acts, the United States in deliberate fashion will lead a coalition to take away the world's worst weapons from one of the world's worst leaders."
Blix said Thursday that weapons inspectors will not return to Iraq until the Security Council has the opportunity to vote on a stronger resolution.
"It would be awkward if we were doing inspections and then a new mandate, with new changed directives were to arise. It would be better to have those early," Blix said.
Earlier in the week, weapons inspectors came to an agreement with Iraqi officials that would allow them open access into the country for inspections, but that access would not extend to the eight presidential palaces -- a condition that the United States and Britain insist be included.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States does not want inspectors to return "under the current arrangements. ...We want the inspectors to go with the full support of the Security Council."
Fox News' Major Garrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report