After threatening to cast the first veto of the Bush presidency over efforts to outlaw torture of military prisoners, the White House has backed away from a showdown and is now seeking compromise with Congress.

A White House spokesman said yesterday that national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley has met three times over the last month -- most recently Thursday night -- with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chief sponsor of an amendment setting new restrictions on the U.S. treatment of war prisoners.

A McCain aide confirmed that the subject of those talks has been the anti-torture amendment, which passed the Senate by a landslide despite heavy opposition from the White House and personal lobbying by Vice President Cheney.

If the White House capitulates or makes major concessions to McCain, it would be a significant retreat for an administration that argued vehemently that the measure would limit the president's flexibility in fighting terrorism.

The strong sentiment in Congress points to continuing concern about the erosion of America's moral authority in the wake of abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the denial of U.S. court trials to detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other allegations of prisoner mistreatment.

The McCain amendment would set stricter standards against the inhumane treatment of suspected terrorists and other detainees. It would make the Army Field Manual the authority on interrogations and would bar all U.S. government agencies from "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of prisoners.