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British PM Urges France, Russia Not to Veto New UN Resolution - 2003-03-11

Britain is warning of a dangerous division between Europe and the United States over the Iraq crisis, and is urging France and Russia not to veto a new United Nations resolution on Iraq.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair says a Security Council veto by France and Russia would send Iraqi President Saddam Hussein a message that he can get away with defying the international community.

"Let us not be under any illusion. There is no way that Iraq will make any concession or cooperate in any way without the threat of force being there," he said. "The only reason we have made any progress at all in the past few weeks has been because of the threat of force. And my concern is that if countries talk about using a veto in all sets of circumstances, the message that sends to Saddam is: 'You're off the hook.' And I think that would be very unfortunate."

Mr. Blair says he fears the Iraq crisis is putting great strains on relations between the United States and Europe.

"The trans-Atlantic alliance is important for us, and I believe passionately that if we end up with Europe and America dividing apart, that will be very damaging for both of us and for the rest of the world," Mr. Blair said. "So I think we've got to work very, very hard over these next few days to see if we can't come to a common position."

Mr. Blair spoke with reporters after meeting his Portuguese counterpart, Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, part of his diplomatic efforts to line up international support for the tough British and U.S. position on Iraq.

Britain is pushing a U.N. resolution that would set disarmament benchmarks for Iraq to meet within a short deadline or face the prospect of war. France and Russia say they will vote against the resolution, which would ensure its defeat due to their veto power as permanent Security Council members.

British diplomats say they are still seeking to get a majority of countries on the 15-member Council to support the resolution, even if it is vetoed. The final diplomatic effort comes as Mr. Blair's Iraq policy confronts growing opposition from many British voters and lawmakers.

A poll released Tuesday shows just 19 percent of Britons would support going to war against Iraq without U.N. authorization, and one-quarter of the British public would oppose a war under any circumstance.