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Blair, Bush defend war

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British Prime Minister Tony Blair shakes hands Thursday with President Bush at the conclusion of their news conference.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair offered an unrepentant defense of the war in Iraq, telling members of Congress on Thursday that "history will not forgive" world leaders who fail to confront the threat posed by proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

"If we are wrong, we will have destroyed a threat that at its least is responsible for inhuman carnage and suffering. That is something I am confident history will forgive," he said. "But if our critics are wrong ... and we do not act, then we will have hesitated in the face of this menace when we should have given leadership. That is something history will not forgive."

Blair said he believes with "every fiber of instinct and conviction I have" that the U.S.-British stand in Iraq was right.

Blair's trip to the United States comes amid the contentious dispute over the veracity of intelligence reports on Iraq's banned weapons programs.

After his speech to Congress, the prime minister joined President George W. Bush at an afternoon news conference to refute suggestions that they manipulated the intelligence information to justify toppling Saddam Hussein.

"The regime of Saddam Hussein was a grave and growing threat," Bush said. "Given Saddam's history of violence and aggression, it would have been reckless to place our trust in his sanity or his restraint."

"As long as I hold this office, I will never risk the lives of American citizens by assuming the good will of dangerous enemies."

Blair also said that British intelligence information that the Iraqi regime was trying to buy uranium from the African nation of Niger was "genuine."

"We stand by that intelligence," he said. "In case people should think that the whole idea of a link between Iraq and Niger was some invention, in the 1980s, we know for sure that Iraq purchased around about 270 tons of uranium from Niger."

Bush has been under fire for the past week over a line in January's State of the Union address in which he charged that Iraq had been trying to buy uranium in Africa, attributing the information to British intelligence.

The White House has now conceded that the line should not have been in the speech because U.S. intelligence has not been able to substantiate the British information. CIA Director George Tenet took responsibility July 11 for not having the allegation removed before the speech was delivered.

Asked if he would take personal responsibility for the words in his own speech, Bush said, "I take responsibility for putting our troops into action. And I made that decision because Saddam Hussein was a threat to our security and a threat to the security of other nations."

Both leaders said they were confident that the case they made before the war that the Iraqi regime had weapons of mass destruction will be proven true.

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British Prime Minister Tony Blair addresses Congress Thursday.

"We won't be proven wrong," Bush said. "I believe that we will find the truth. And the truth is he was developing a program for weapons of mass destruction."

"We based our decisions on good, sound intelligence ... and the truth will say that this intelligence was good intelligence. There's no doubt in my mind."

Blair said he believes "with every fiber of instinct and conviction" that evidence of banned weapons will be found.

"This history of Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction is a 12-year history and is a history of him using the weapons and developing the weapons and concealing the weapons and not complying with the United Nations inspectors who were trying to shut down his programs," he said.

Blair also said the argument that the Iraqi regime didn't have weapons is based on an "extraordinary proposition" that Saddam Hussein willingly endured punishing economic sanctions after voluntarily destroying his weapons and not telling anyone.

"I don't think that's very likely," he said.

start quoteAs long as I hold this office, I will never risk the lives of American citizens by assuming the goodwill of dangerous enemies.end quote
-- President Bush

Bush also pledged to work with Blair in deciding how to handle the cases of nine British citizens captured in Afghanistan who are being detained as enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Two of the prisoners are among a group selected to face the first military tribunal, which could result in a death sentence.

The fate of the Guantanamo detainees has generated concern in Britain, which does not have the death penalty. Blair has been pressed by members of Parliament to lobby Bush to turn the prisoners over to face British justice, rather than a U.S. military tribunal.

"We will work with the Blair government on this issue," Bush said. "The only thing I know for certain is that these are bad people."

Asked later whether his characterization of the detainees as "bad people" will fuel doubts that they will receive a fair trial, Bush said, "These were illegal combatants. They were picked up off the battlefield aiding and abetting the Taliban. I'm not trying to try them in front of your cameras or in your newspaper."

Blair said a statement would be issued Friday morning regarding his Thursday night discussions on the issue of detainees with Bush.

Blair speaks to Congress

Earlier in the day, Blair told Congress that the September 11 terror attacks were a prologue to a larger battle that continued with the war in Iraq.

"There never has been a time when the power of America has been so necessary or misunderstood," Blair said to loud applause.

start quoteWe stand by that intelligence.end quote
-- Prime Minister Tony Blair, on British intelligence that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger

Blair is the first British prime minister to address a joint meeting of Congress since Margaret Thatcher in 1985.

Blair spoke of global values and trans-Atlantic relations. He told Congress that intervention by the United States and Great Britain in global conflicts has a positive effect.

"If Europe and America are together, the others will work with us."

"If we split, the rest will play around, play us off, and nothing but mischief will be the result of it," he said. "To be a serious partner, Europe must take on and defeat the anti-Americanism that sometimes passes for its political discourse. And what America must do is show that this is a partnership built on persuasion, not command."

Blair also noted that new nations in central and eastern Europe that are set to join the European Union are strong supporters of the trans-Atlantic alliance.

"They are our allies and they are yours. So don't give up on Europe. Work with it," he said.

He also vowed that the coalition that deposed Saddam would stay the course in Iraq.

"We promised Iraq democratic government. We will deliver it. We promised them the chance to use their oil wealth to build prosperity for all their citizens, not a corrupt elite. And we will do so."

"We will stay with these people in need of our help until the job is done."

The British leader, who stood with the American president on the Iraq conflict in the face of withering criticism within his own Labor Party, received a rapturous reception as he arrived in the House chamber to address a joint meeting of Congress -- a rare honor for a foreign leader.

"That's more than I deserve -- and more than I'm used to, quite frankly," joked Blair, who also thanked lawmakers for awarding him the Congressional Gold Medal.

Blair pledged his strong support for the Anglo-American alliance, particularly when it comes to fighting what he called the "new and deadly virus" of international terrorism. He also said the United States should and must be the leader of that fight.

"Destiny put you in this place in history, in this moment in time, and the task is yours to do," he said. "You're not going to be alone. We will be there with you in this fight for liberty. And if your spirit is right and our courage firm, the world will be with us."

Blair also said that "there is no more dangerous theory in international politics than that we need to balance the power of America with other competitive powers."

"It is dangerous because it is not rivalry, but partnership, we need -- a common will and a shared purpose in the face of a common threat."


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