LONDON – Vice President Cheney secured strong words of support from British Prime Minister Tony Blair Monday for as-yet-unspecified allied actions against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Despite pressures against such measures brewing within Blair's own Labor Party, the prime minister, seconded by Cheney, made the case for moving against Saddam.
"He's in breach of at least nine U.N. Security Council resolutions about weapons of mass destruction. He has not allowed weapons inspectors to do the job that the U.N. wanted them to do in order to make sure that he can't develop them," Blair said during a commemoration to mark the six-month anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
"[We] have to be concerned about the potential marriage, if you will, between a terrorist organization like Al Qaeda and those who hold or are proliferating knowledge about weapons of mass destruction," Cheney added.
Cheney was in London to confer with Blair, America's strongest ally in the terrorism campaign, before a 10-day visit to the Middle East that will include stops in Israel, Turkey and nine Arab countries.
On Sunday, Blair's own international development secretary, Clare Short, dismissed an allied attack on Iraq as "not at all sensible."
With Blair facing such domestic political dissension, Cheney offered him an "opt-out" for any future phase of the war on terror, and said, "Britain certainly retains the right to decide whether or not to participate in any particular action."
Both leaders stressed no decisions have been made on how or when to deal with Saddam. The two countries continue to monitor a no-fly zone in the north and south of Iraq. Surveillance planes are frequently shot at by Iraqi anti-aircraft missiles.
But Blair's support for action against the Iraqi leader could prove helpful in Cheney's visits this week to discuss "phase two" in the war on terror. Traveling to Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, Cheney is to discuss where to go after the Afghanistan campaign, but downplayed any suggestion an announcement would be made on the next battleground.
Cheney dismissed fears — greater in Europe than in the United States — that the United States is planning first strike nuclear attacks on seven countries named in a nuclear strategy document published in Saturday's Los Angeles Times.
Cheney said the report is routinely delivered to Congress and didn't really address targeting issues.
"Right now, today, the United States, on a day-to-day basis, does not target nuclear weapons on any nation," he said. "But the notion that I've seen reported in the press that somehow this means we are preparing preemptive nuclear strikes against seven countries — I believe was the way it was reported — I'd say that's a bit over the top."
Cheney heads next to Jordan, arriving just ahead of Gen. Anthony Zinni, President Bush's Mideast envoy, who returns to the region after a three-month respite to try to talk peace with the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Despite suggestions that the ongoing violence in Israel will undercut his efforts to rally support for allied action against Saddam, the vice president maintained the two issues are largely unrelated.
With a cadre of military and foreign policy advisers, Cheney flew to London Sunday aboard the jumbo jet President Bush uses. It was his first overseas trip as vice president.
While in London, Cheney also planned to visit an information center on the war against terrorism and the Cabinet War Room Museum, where Prime Minister Winston Churchill helped oversee the allied war effort during World War II.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.