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Friday, 23 February, 2001, 13:19 GMT
Blair pledges 'to contain' Iraq
Tony Blair
Mr Blair told TV viewers that Iraq was still a threat
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he will use "whatever means are necessary" to prevent Saddam Hussein from developing weapons of mass destruction.

The UK-US relationship is one of huge strategic importance

Tony Blair
In an interview on American television, Mr Blair said it was important that Iraq was contained.

Mr Blair was speaking just hours before he is due to hold his first face to face meeting with President George W Bush - the first European leader to do so since he took office.

The prime minister added that the "special relationship" between the UK and the US was important.

"The UK-US relationship is one of huge strategic importance," he said.

"We share the same values. We share the same interests."

Strikes defended

Mr Blair defended last week's much criticised strikes on sites near Baghdad.

Bush-Blair agenda
Iraq policy
US missile defence
European defence force
"We need to make sure we contain him [Saddam Hussein]. This is somebody who killed thousands of his own people with chemical weapons," he said.

"He still wants to develop weapons of mass destruction. We have to stop him by whatever means are necessary."

Asked about US plans to develop a ballistic missile defence shield - dubbed "Son of Star Wars" - Mr Blair remained non-committal.

George W. Bush
President Bush: Extending the hand of friendship

He is expected to tell Mr Bush that he will need to hear full details of the project before he can decide whether to allow British-based tracking systems to be used.

The Conservative Party has already pledged unconditional support for the project.

However, he said it was "right and sensible" that proposals for improving defence were discussed.

Both Iraq and the missile defence shield are expected to feature high on the agenda when Mr Blair meets Mr Bush later on Friday. The planned European defence force is also likely to be discussed.

Informal talks

The White House has billed the meeting as "informal" and a chance for the two leaders to get to know each other.

Both leaders will also be keen to show that the "special relationship" between the UK and US will continue, after speculation that it would weaken as a result of Mr Bush's election.

Condoleezza Rice, US senior foreign policy advisor
Condoleezza Rice says the meeting will be informal
Mr Blair and his wife Cherie will travel by helicopter to the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland, where they will be met by Mr Bush and his wife Laura.

"I am anxious to meet the prime minister...Britain and the United States have got a special relationship. We'll keep it that way," Mr Bush told reporters on Thursday.

The president's senior foreign policy adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said Friday's meeting would help both men to get to know each other.

"The purpose of this meeting is to do face to face what you cannot do on the telephone - which is really to get to know somebody, to spend some time in both discussions about issues, but also in an informal setting with family."

Describing it as more of an informal working meeting than an official summit, she said "massive new agreements" should not be expected.

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See also:

23 Feb 01 | Americas
US and the UK: Special relationship?
23 Feb 01 | Americas
Blair set to meet Bush
22 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Blair wants 'best of both worlds'
22 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Blair defends new Iraq strikes
16 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Blair 'will co-operate with Star Wars'
22 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Europe no threat to Nato, says Blair
22 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Blair the globetrotter
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