- Tony Blair issued a stark warning last night that he
was ready to commit British troops to fight alongside US forces in a war
against Iraq - even if other members of the United Nations were opposed
to military action.
- Signalling that strikes against Saddam Hussein were virtually
inevitable, the Prime Minister stressed that 'inaction was not an option'
and that Britain had a duty to act now to save civilians from the threat
of weapons of mass destruction.
- As Blair flew to the United States last night for crucial
talks with President George W. Bush at Camp David, he told reporters aboard
his specially chartered jet that he was convinced the British public would
be persuaded of the need for action once details of Saddam's weapons programme
- 'The threat is very real and it is a threat not just
to America or to the international community, but to Britain,' he said.
'If these weapons are developed and used, then there is no way that any
conflict Saddam initiated using these weapons would not have direct implication
for the interest of Britain.'
- Blair believes public opinion will harden with the publication
tomorrow of a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies
in London, which will detail Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities.
- The report, which has been seen by officials at Number
10, is thought to give details of Saddam's attempt to rebuild his nuclear
capabilities since the ending of UN weapons inspections in 1998.
- It will also detail his development of drone planes to
release chemical and biological weapons over long distances. The report
will concentrate on whether Iraq is supporting terrorist organisations
around the world with weapons or finance.
- The Government was also intending to publish a dossier
that would include new intelligence reports on Saddam's operations which
have not been seen in public before.
- In comments echoed by US officials, a bullish Blair also
gave a broad hint last night that Britain and the US were prepared to act
without support from other UN nations, saying the present containment regime
against Saddam of no-fly zones and sanctions could only go so far.
- Although he stressed that he would prefer to go ahead
with the support of the international community, Blair said the UN would
not be able simply to prevaricate over action - comments viewed in some
quarters as an attempt to pressure other countries to fall in behind the
US and Britain.
- Senior Bush administration sources revealed last night
that Bush will tell world leaders at the UN on Thursday that unless they
take quick, strong action to disarm Iraq, the US will be forced to act
on its own.
- But British troops were also likely to be deployed. Peppering
his comments with the argument that Saddam needed to be dealt with now,
Blair told journalists he was 'sceptical' that the return of United Nations
weapons inspectors could defuse the Iraqi threat, adding that he did not
believe a UN resolution was necessary to authorise military action against
- In an interview due to be broadcast today, Blair is also
expected to tell the BBC that Britain should be prepared to commit troops
alongside the US in view of the 'real and immediate' threat posed by Iraq.
- 'If I thought they were pursuing military action in a
way that was wrong, I would never support it. But I've never found that,
and I don't expect to find it in the future,' he says.
- Blair and Bush were meeting last night to carve out a
detailed plan for a strict ultimatum and deadlines for Saddam to admit
weapons inspectors, unhindered, backed by a robust military presence already
mobilised in the region.
- They will also draw up the strategy for presenting a
case for action to the now crucial UN General Assembly on Thursday, to
be addressed by Bush the day after the anniversary of the 11 September
- The comments follow Bush's apparent failure to persuade
the leaders of Russia, China and France of the need for military action
in personal calls on Friday. Bush has said he will dispatch teams of officials
to the three capitals to present the evidence of the threat posed by Iraq.
- On the inspectors, Blair said: 'We have got to see this
in the light of experience. Why did the inspectors go? It was because the
inspectors found they couldn't do their work. Whatever weapons inspection
regime is put in has to be one that's very effective.'
- Pressed whether a new UN resolution was needed, Blair
said simply: 'There's no doubt this issue has to be dealt with. The only
decision that's been taken at this stage is that inaction is not an option.'
- Blair said, while he wanted the 'broadest possible coalition'
for any action, 'we have, however, to make sure this issue is dealt with
one way or another.'
- Asked if he had received a cool response in recent talks
with France and Russia, Blair replied: 'I wouldn't say that. I think most
people are at first base, which is that, yes, this is a problem and we
can't ignore it.'
- Senior sources say that the White House will sell its
determination to fight Iraq according to a strategy drawn up at a summit
in June and unashamedly entwined with the 11 September anniversary.
- Officials say the campaign for public hearts and minds,
and also the backing of Congress and administration sceptics, will begin
with the President's speech in New York.