Blair, Bush Stand United On Iraq

July 7, 2008 - 7:11 PM

London (CNSNews.com) - Prime Minister Tony Blair returned to Britain on Monday after reaffirming calls to stand up against Iraq during a weekend summit with President Bush.

Blair still faces some opposition from his own party over military action against Saddam Hussein, but said Sunday that there should be "no let up" in the war against terror.

"To allow weapons of mass destruction to be developed by a state like Iraq ... would be grossly to ignore the lessons of Sept. 11," Blair said in Texas. "We will not do it."

Blair hinted that unlike in the Gulf War, the ultimate goal of a future allied mission would be to remove Saddam from power.

"I have been involved as British prime minister in three conflicts involving regime change -- Milosevic, the Taliban and Sierra Leone," Blair said. "If necessary, the action should be military and again, if necessary and justified, it should involve regime change.

"He (Saddam) has to let the inspectors back in - anyone, any time, any place the international community demands," he said. "We will proceed, as we did after September 11, in a calm, measured, sensible but firm way."

The two leaders also discussed the situation in the Middle East during the summit over three days at Bush's ranch in Crawford. In his concluding speech Sunday, Blair indicated support for a Saudi-backed plan that would trade recognition of Israel by Arab states for a withdrawal of forces from the occupied territories.

'Deep unease'

Blair's statements received a mixed reception from British lawmakers Monday. Around 150 members of parliament have signed a motion expressing "deep unease" at any strikes against Iraq. One cabinet member, International Development Minister Claire Short, has reportedly threatened to resign over the issue.

Professor Kevin Theakston, director of the Institute for Politics and International Studies, said Blair wouldn't shy away from a direct confrontation with his left-wing detractors.

"Many of the critics expressing their displeasure now are the people who came out against the Gulf War," Theakston said. "It could be that when the time for concrete action comes around, in whatever form that takes, the rebels might be marginalized."

"The worst-case scenario from Blair's perspective would be a major rebellion and a split in the cabinet," he said.

While a sizeable contingent, the group of dissenters is nowhere near a majority in parliament and some experts questioned whether they could even force a vote on possible action. Most of the opposition has come from Blair's side of the House of Commons, and a key battle could come during a Wednesday meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

By contrast, the opposition Conservatives staunchly supported the prime minister's weekend statements. Tory foreign affairs spokesman Michael Ancram said Bush and Blair adequately spelled out conditions for the Iraqi leader.

"They made clear the objective, which is the removal of these weapons, and they made it clear that they will pursue whatever means are necessary in order to achieve that objective," Ancram said in an interview.

Iraq has continued to show no sign of willingness to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors. Tariq Aziz, Saddam's deputy prime minister, was quoted in a German magazine as saying his country is "expecting the worst and preparing for it."

"In recent weeks I have visited 14 Arab states and all of them have assured me that they will support us in the event of an American attack," he said.

E-mail a news tip to Mike Wendling.

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