WASHINGTON -- Edging toward war, President Bush scheduled a rare prime-time news conference Thursday in an effort to counter stiff opposition to his plans for disarming Iraq
The news conference was part of an intensifying campaign to prepare the nation for the possibility of a war that could be days away, White House officials said.
"He thought it was appropriate to talk to the American people as directly as possible," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Bush selected the stately East Room as the setting for the first time since Oct. 11, 2001 - a month after the terrorist attacks that brought down commercial planes in Washington, New York and Pennsylvania.
The president was taking questions the night before chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix was to deliver his latest report regarding Iraqi efforts to comply with arms demands. Blix has said Iraq is showing "a great deal more" cooperation, a blow to U.S. efforts to win a U.N. resolution authorizing force to disarm Iraq.
Hours before Bush's news conference, Chinese President Jiang Zemin renewed his opposition to the resolution. France and Russia have threatened to veto it.
Sensing possible defeat, Britain floated the idea of attaching a short deadline to the resolution that would give Saddam a few days to prove he has no more banned weapons.
The news conference was Bush's eighth as president, the first since Nov. 7 and his second in prime-time. He fields questions more routinely at other White House events.
Among his plans for next week, Bush is considering a major address to explain the justification and risks of military conflict, aides said.
The speech could include a final ultimatum for Saddam and a warning to journalists and humanitarian workers to leave Iraq, they said.
Millions of anti-war demonstrators worldwide have protested against Bush's policies.
Most Americans support his plan to disarm Iraq, by force if needed, polls show. But many have serious reservations about war if the U.N. doesn't sign off on it.
Bush's overall approval rating has dipped during the Iraqi standoff.