Blair heads to US for war talks with Bush

British PM Tony Blair flies across the Atlantic on Wednesday for face-to-face talks with US President George W. Bush on what to do with Iraq after Saddam Hussein falls.
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Published on Mar 26, 2003 10:26 AM IST
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PTI | By Agence France-Presse, London

With a final decisive battle for Baghdad looming, British Prime Minister Tony Blair flies across the Atlantic on Wednesday for face-to-face talks with US President George W. Bush on what to do with Iraq after Saddam Hussein falls.

Blair announced, at a Downing Street briefing, that he would follow up his snap war summit at Bush's presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland with talks in New York with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Blair, who has Bush's staunchest ally throughout the Iraq crisis, was due to arrive in Washington around 5:00 pm (2200 GMT), with a press conference planned for Thursday mid-morning.

It will be the third time this year that Bush and Blair have met face to face, after talks at the White House on January 31 and on Portugal's Azores islands on March 16, four day before the US-led invasion of Iraq began.

Throughout the crisis, they have been on the telephone with each other almost every day.

At a Downing Street press conference on Tuesday, Blair said he wanted the United Nations to be "centrally involved" in Iraq's reconstruction from what he called the poverty inflicted on its people by Saddam's regime.

Blair said he would also be discussing with Bush ways to patch up transatlantic relations, after France - to Washington's anger - blocked a US-British-Spanish attempt to get a UN resolution before going to war.

The war to overthrow Saddam hinges on his failure to abide by 12 years of UN resolutions demanding that Iraq give up the pursuit of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Blair said on Tuesday: "I will see president Bush at Camp David to discuss not just the military campaign but also the diplomatic implications of recent events for the future - in particular how we get America and Europe working again together as partners and not as rivals."

The Camp David talks would also "assess the best way of dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Iraq... how we rebuild Iraq post-Saddam, and also, of course, our approach to the Middle East peace process."

In the House of Commons, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on Tuesday that Blair would press Bush to push forward with a long-delayed "road map" towards the founding of a Palestinian state in 2005.

Blair has been Bush's staunchest ally in the showdown with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein over weapons of mass destruction, sending 45,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen, 120 tanks, a naval task force and 100-plus warplanes to join the US-led war.

British forces reported an uprising against Saddam's regime in Iraq's second city of Basra on Tuesday, and said Iraqi troops had fired on civilians to try to put it down.

Iraq immediately denied the report as US "lies" aimed at demoralising the Iraqi people. US and British forces have been counting on widespread rebellions against Saddam since launching its war to topple him last week.

Meanwhile, support for the war effort remains steady among Britons, with 56 percent of people believing that the United States and Britain are right to launch military action against Iraq, according to a YouGov poll in The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday.

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