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Blair to attend U.S. Iraq summit

Bush, Blair
Since September 11 Blair has proved to be Bush's staunchest European ally  

BERLIN, Germany -- Prime Minister Tony Blair is preparing to fly to the U.S. for urgent talks over Iraq with U.S. President George W. Bush.

Blair will discuss the threat posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, his alleged programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction, and what steps to take.

Bush is taking his case on the need for action to oust Saddam to the U.S. Congress, and vowed to make the case against Iraqi leader on the international stage as well. (Full story)

His weekend meeting with Blair, a key ally, at the President's Camp David retreat will be seen as a step to win international support for air strikes against Iraq.

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Both leaders say that no decision has yet been taken on military action.

On Tuesday, Blair made clear his determination to stand squarely with the U.S. president over the Iraqi issue, describing Saddam as a "real and unique threat" to the Middle East and the wider world.

On Wednesday, the prime minister's official spokesman said the Camp David talks would provide "a useful opportunity to go over the issues flowing from Saddam's continuing violation of the U.N. resolutions."

In Washington, Bush said he looked forward to talking with the prime minister about "our mutual concerns about how to make the world more secure today."

As well as meeting Blair, President Bush will seek to rally support for his strategy on Iraq in phone calls to the leaders of China, Russia and France.

Some European leaders have already ruled out backing military action. On Wednesday German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder rebuffed calls by Blair to back the U.S. if they attacked.

Schroeder insisted at a news conference in Berlin that Germany remained opposed to a strike and wouldn't "submit" to Washington. (Full story)

Bush is expected to meet Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien on Monday in Detroit.

The U.S. president is also due to address the U.N. General Assembly on September 12.

The trip to Camp David, Maryland, will be particularly welcome to Blair, given recent reports suggesting that 10 Downing Street was becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of clear guidance from the White House about the President's plans with regard to Iraq.

Richard Holbrooke, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said last week that at least half a dozen senior British officials and other people close to the prime minister had privately expressed unease at the lack of information coming out of Washington.

Holbrooke quoted one senior official at No. 10 as complaining to him that the Bush administration was "giving Blair nothing" despite the prime minister's strong support for the U.S. over Iraq.

The Camp David talks will help Blair counter critics who say he is committing himself to backing the U.S. without having adequate information about Bush's intentions towards Baghdad.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged at the weekend that there was a need for Washington to consult more closely with its allies.

Britain's Ministry of Defence also confirmed at the weekend that Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon is to visit the U.S. for a six-day trip surrounding the first anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks.

Hoon's visit will include talks with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, regarded as one of the chief hawks in the Bush administration pushing the case for military action against Iraq.




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