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Bush meets with Canadian prime minister, presses for international support on Iraq action

DETROIT—President Bush on Monday pressed his efforts to build international support for action against Iraq, three days before he will deliver a speech to the United Nations in which he is expected to lay out his case for the urgent removal of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

In London, the International Institute for Strategic Studies released a report Monday saying Iraq could build a nuclear weapon "in short order, perhaps in a matter of months" if it could obtain highly enriched uranium or plutonium from foreign sources on the black market.

An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Iraq had been aggressively trying to buy the fissile materials it needed for a nuclear weapon from foreign sources, using an overseas network of front companies it established more than a decade ago to purchase technologies and materials for its weapons of mass destruction programs.

Bush met privately in Detroit with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien shortly after both leaders announced a new border-security program. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said the president also called world leaders to consult on Iraq and to present his view that Saddam is violating U.N. Security Council resolutions.

After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the security council demanded that Iraq unconditionally give up its weapons of mass destruction under international inspection. Iraq obstructed the work of the inspectors and has not allowed them to return since the U.N. pulled them out four years ago.

Canada and several other nations have said they would support a military attack on Iraq only if the U.N. Security Council approves it first. Bush did not press Chretien to change his view when they talked today, Fleischer said. The two leaders did not mention Iraq publicly.

Last week Bush called the leaders of France, Russia and China, three of the five permanent members of the security council. The permanent members, who include the United States and Britain, are the only members of the council with veto power.

Bush met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Saturday. Only Britain and Israel have voiced strong support for the Bush administration on Iraq.

French President Jacques Chirac, in an interview with The New York Times published Monday, outlined a two-part plan for dealing with Iraq. First, the security council would pass a resolution that would give Iraq three weeks to admit U.N. weapons inspectors "without restrictions or preconditions." If Saddam failed to comply, a second resolution on whether to use military force would be voted on.

Chirac said France's stand on the second resolution would depend on how it was worded. He warned that a pre-emptive U.S. strike would set an "extremely dangerous" precedent.

Bush has not yet decided whether to seek a new security council resolution insisting that Iraq comply with the 11-year-old demands for its disarmament, a senior administration official said.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, left open the possibility that the president will not. "The real question is not whether you seek a resolution or not, but can you get an acceptable resolution" out of the world body in a decent period of time, he said. His comment appeared to reinforce the view that Bush is in a hurry to act.

Fleischer would not comment directly on Chirac's proposal, but said, "It does appear that a movement is budding to put some force into previous U.N. resolutions." The spokesman clarified that he was not referring to military force.

Fleischer said Bush on Monday called U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, which currently holds the presidency of the European Union. He also called Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and NATO Secretary General George Robertson.

At the Detroit event, Bush and Chretien unveiled a new computerized system at the Ambassador Bridge between their countries. The system will allow some commuters to cross more quickly, freeing federal inspectors to concentrate on travelers who may be criminals or terrorists, they said.

The system, called Nexus, is scheduled to be in place at the bridge by January. It will permit U.S. and Canadian citizens to apply for identification cards after clearing a background check that includes running their names through criminal and terrorism databanks. The card transmits a signal to an Immigration and Naturalization Service computer at the border, and the driver can pass without stopping. Participants are still subject to random inspections, officials said.

Bush also praised the Free and Secure Trade program, or FAST lane, which allows preapproved trucks to pass through customs without delay. That program is being tested in Detroit. A similar lane is planned for the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, N.Y. Such lanes are already in use in Washington state.

Detroit is the busiest northern border crossing in the United States.

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(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents Jeff Bennett, Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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