Menu

ARCHIVE

Blair Urges Support for U.S. on Iraq

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is trying to rally support for U.S.-led action to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"This is not just an issue for the U.S. It is an issue for Britain and the wider world. America should not have to face this issue alone," Blair told a news conference in northern England.

Blair signaled his strong support for the Bush administration's stance on Iraq, and risked mounting criticism from his constituents and from within the ranks of his governing Labor Party.

The White House has said it wants to overthrow Saddam, but hasn't decided what action to take.

Britain is seen as the United States' strongest ally if there is a war against Iraq. In recent days there has been increasing international pressure on Washington not to act against Saddam without U.N. approval.

Russia, however, insisted it would veto any measure for military action against Baghdad that is put before the U.N. Security Council.

"We hope ... that this question will not be placed to the Security Council, thereby necessitating the veto of Russia," Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said, after meeting his Iraqi counterpart, Naji Sabri, in Moscow.

Russia urged Saddam to readmit U.N. weapons inspectors to avert the threat of war.

Blair told reporters broad international support for military action against Iraq was important, but warned that there may still be action without it.

"Of course it is better to do this with the broadest possible basis of international support. But it does have to be done and we have to make sure that there are not people who are simply going to turn a blind eye to this," he said.

"How we deal with it ... is under discussion," said Blair, adding there was constant dialogue between London and Washington.

Blair has barely spoken in public about Iraq in recent weeks, and Tuesday's news conference followed pressure from the news media and lawmakers for him to detail his position.

About 160 members of Parliament, many members of the Labor Party, have signed a motion cautioning against military action.

British public concern about participating in a U.S. offensive appears to be growing. An ICM poll published this week suggested 71 percent of voters oppose Britain joining a war against Iraq that lacks U.N. approval.

Blair argued Tuesday that concerns were rooted in an unfounded fear that Britain and the United States would act hastily, and he insisted any action would comply with international law.

It is essential that U.N. weapons inspectors, who have been barred from Iraq since 1998, are allowed back in "unconditionally," Blair said. His government hoped to publish a dossier of evidence on Saddam's efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction in the next few weeks, he added.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan met with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz on Tuesday, urging him to comply with Security Council resolutions, which call for the unconditional return of inspectors.

But Aziz said their return depended on the lifting of sanctions, restoring Iraqi sovereignty in the north and south of the country, and ending U.S. threats.

Aziz said Washington was not interested in dialogue over the weapons issue, and that the United States was using it as an excuse for military action.

"In the end, they will use whatever pretext remains in their hands to attack us," he said. "We are preparing ourselves to defend our country."

Saddam's top officials have been visiting Arab countries, as well as Russia, China and the world summit in Johannesburg, trying to rally support against a U.S. strike. Iraq's Naji Sabri headed from Moscow to Cairo on Tuesday for a gathering of Arab foreign ministers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.