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Britain Urges US to Garner More International Support on Iraq - 2002-09-05

British officials say they have helped convince President Bush he needs to line up more international support before launching a military strike against Iraq. The president will meet Saturday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss how to deal with the Iraq crisis.

Prime Minister Blair is expected to push the idea of a new U.N. resolution on Iraq when he meets President Bush at the Camp David presidential retreat.

Britain has suggested the U.N. Security Council give Iraqi President Saddam Hussein an ultimatum; that he let U.N. weapons inspectors back in by a specified deadline, or face potential military attack.

Prime Minister Blair insists that whatever is decided between him and Mr. Bush, the current U.N. resolutions on Iraq will not be watered down.

"The Iraqi regime know[s] perfectly well what they have to do. There is no negotiation about this," he said. "They have a complete and total obligation to let the weapons inspectors back in anytime, any place, anywhere. If we go down this route, and try to secure the broadest international support, there is not going to be a negotiation about the existing U.N. resolutions."

The United States and Britain have led the call for international action to halt Iraqi efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush-Blair meeting follows weeks of warnings by senior U.S. officials about the threat Saddam Hussein poses to the Middle East and the world.

But now there are clear signs that Washington wants more consultations before military action.

The White House says that during the next week Mr. Bush will discuss the Iraq crisis by telephone with the leaders of Russia, China, and France, who with Britain and America are permanent members of the Security Council.

President Bush will give a speech on Iraq at the United Nations Thursday, September 12.

British sources say Mr. Blair is considering a trip to Moscow in early October to discuss Iraq with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Diplomats say that if Russia can be persuaded to back a new U.N. resolution, it could sway France and China to go along.

British politicians are debating the pros and cons of sending British troops to fight in Iraq.

The leader of the opposition Conservative Party, Iain Duncan Smith, says the time to act is now, before Iraqi missiles threaten Britain.

"We know that Iraq has been engaged with North Korea in developing missiles. That evidence is there," he said. "And the reality is that those missiles will take them into the next generation, which is likely to put most of Europe if not the whole of Europe, including the United Kingdom, into direct threat."

The leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy, is more cautious. He says Mr. Blair should call parliament into emergency session immediately to debate Iraq policy. And Mr. Kennedy says it would be wrong to launch an attack without U.N. support.

"You want any subsequent decisions and actions to be carried out under the auspices of the United Nations with the backing of fresh Security Council resolutions, if that proves necessary," he said.

Prime Minister Blair's office plays down speculation that war is imminent. Blair spokesmen say there is no need to recall parliament, since no decision has been made to go to war against Saddam Hussein.