London (CNSNews.com) - Speculation is growing that Britain will back potential U.S. strikes on Iraq, but parliamentarians are asking for more evidence of Saddam Hussein's links to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations before supporting allied military action.
U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair will travel to Washington next month for a meeting with President Bush, according to several newspaper reports. Following its usual protocol, Downing Street declined to comment on the prime minister's travel plans Monday.
"We have always made clear that we share the United States' determination to continue the war against terrorism," Blair's spokesman said.
"We share their concerns about Baghdad's support for terrorism and its development of weapons of mass destruction. The best way forward is through close consultation with our allies, including the United States. We remain fully committed to the campaign on terrorism," he said.
A recent BBC poll shows that Blair may have some work to do to win over members of his own party in advance of a potential strike against Iraq.
Questioners asked 101 Labour Party MPs if they thought there was "sufficient evidence to justify a military attack on Iraq by America and its allies." Eighty-six said no, while eight answered in the affirmative, and seven gave no reply.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan Monday also criticized potential military action.
"I don't think Washington has taken any decision yet as to what to do about Iraq," Annan said after talks with Blair in London. "But I myself am on record as saying that any attack on Iraq at this stage would be unwise."
Saddam Hussein has repeatedly refused to allow U.N. weapons inspectors to check whether or not Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction. Diplomatic channels were virtually exhausted in 1998 when a team of inspectors left Iraq in advance of U.S.-led airstrikes.
Reports indicated that the British government was ready to publish a document outlining Iraq's chemical and biological weapons capabilities.
Western intelligence agencies may even have proof that Saddam is investigating ways to launch "dirty" nuclear bombs - conventional weapons that could be used to spread dangerous radioactive material over a wide area.
Blair's government published a similar document last year, detailing evidence linking Osama bin Laden to the Sept. 11 attacks.
While the report admitted the collected evidence probably wouldn't result in a conviction in a court of law, it demonstrated significant connections between the al Qaeda leader and the terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon.
Meanwhile, in his first interview to the British press since Sept. 11, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld underscored the U.S. government's determination to independently pursue the war on terror.
Though he declined to specifically discuss Iraq, Rumsfeld told the Daily Telegraph that "the coalition ought really not to determine missions."
"Missions determine coalitions," the defense secretary said in Monday's editions. "And one ought not to expect that every country in the world is going to agree.
"We clearly have to consider that our first task is to continue to pursue the al Qaeda and other terrorist networks, and work to see that nation states are not actively harbouring and encouraging and permitting, or even tolerating, their activities," he said.
E-mail a news tip to Mike Wendling.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.