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Blair, Berlusconi Defend Iraq Invasion - 2004-07-13


The leaders of Britain and Italy, both in political trouble at home, met in London to issue a strong defense of their involvement in Iraq. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Italian counterpart, Silvio Berlusconi, brushed aside concerns they might harbor about their political futures.

Mr. Blair faces a potentially embarrassing report, to be released Wednesday, on British intelligence failures before the Iraq invasion.

But he told a news conference he would do nothing different, despite the failure to discover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Mr. Blair's main reason for joining the war.

"I feel very much as I did 18 months ago," he said. "I think it is very difficult to look at Iraq today, look at Iraq under Saddam, and say we would be better off, the world would be safer and more secure, if Saddam were still in charge of Iraq."

Mr. Berlusconi agreed that the future of Iraq is brighter with Saddam Hussein out of power. He spoke through an interpreter.

"Iraq, for most of its citizens, is a nation that is breathing again and is looking, hopefully, to a democratic future," he said. "We really need to look forward. What we are doing in Iraq guarantees the transition towards democracy."

Mr. Berlusconi was in London leaving behind a tattered governing coalition and the worst political crisis since he took office three years ago.

The Italian leader told reporters he will appear in parliament Wednesday in Rome to answer questions about how long he will hold on to the economics portfolio, which he assumed earlier this month when his finance minister resigned.

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