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EDITIONS
Sunday, 8 September, 2002, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
Newslog
It's the return of Newslog after its summer break. Here, Nick Robinson keeps a unique diary from the heart of the news. Add your comments too.

Thursday 5 September


Passports at the ready!
posted by Nick | 1110 BST | Add comment

Camp David this weekend looks set to be just the first stop on the latest mystery tour of Bush's ally-in-chief and principal coalition builder.

Tony Blair is set to visit Moscow in mid-October. The prime minister believes that President Putin is a vital ally in any confrontation with Iraq, and think that it's Moscow's economic links with Baghdad that pose a problem and not any attachment to Saddam Hussein or opposition to military action.

Iraq owes Russia squillions of dollars - Putin puts the figure at 11 billion! - and Blair feels that if that problem can be addressed, Moscow will not be the obstacle many are saying it will.

The politically astute among you (and the cynical) may note that the PM will don furry hat at Putin's dacha on the same day that Iain Duncan Smith makes his party conference speech. A stunt last pulled by Margaret Thatcher when she took to "the man I can do business with" - Mikhail Gorbachev.

-------------------------

Wednesday 4 September


As if Saddam wasn't enough...
posted by Nick | 1610 BST | Add comment
After yesterday's Sedgefield spectacular, there's much talk about whether Tony Blair can persuade his party and the public to back a war with Iraq.

Few seem to have noticed that before then, he's got an even tougher task - to persuade his party and the public to trust in "my friend" George W Bush. On Friday he will travel to Camp David to meet Mr Bush and talk about the "Iraqi threat".

Not since the days of Ronald Reagan do I recall such hostility and indeed contempt for the occupant of the White House - those of you old enough to recall the TV satire Spitting Image remember with a grin the "president's brain is missing" sketch. Even that would, I suspect, be regarded as too kind to George W.

Yet Tony Blair - political ally and personal friend of Bill Clinton - insists in public and in private that George Bush is cleverer than anyone gives him credit for, that he is really in charge of his administration and that he "is disarmingly open".

Whether the prime minister can persuade even a fraction of his critics of that analysis may hold the key to whether he can persuade them on the bigger debate - whether to risk British lives to confront Saddam Hussein.

-------------------------------------

Tuesday 3 September


Welcome back after the break!
posted by Nick | 1110 BST | Add comment
So it's back to school. I have just stepped off a flight from Devon to Newcastle - I've gone from building sandcastles to questioning the prime minister in just 24 hours.

A chance on the flight up to muse about a fascinating few months in politics to come. One minister I saw over the summer who isn't prone to hyperbole told me that the decisions Tony Blair is about to take could define politics for a generation.

He meant, of course, the decision whether to join an American attack on Iraq. There is of course the minor matter of whether to scrap our national currency as well.

Don't expect any new announcements in Tony Blair's news conference this afternoon. What we will see, I think, is him making the argument that Saddam Hussein is a real threat not just to the world but to Britain specifically, and that therefore doing nothing is not an option.

But he's already gone much further than many people remember. At his talks with George Bush in Crawford in April, he backed the case for a "regime change" (though he didn't use those words), and pre-emptive military action if necessary.

What will be interesting to see is how he deals with the tide of hostile opinion while he was away - not just in the Arab world, not just in opinion polls, not just from bishops, but in his own party and from his own cabinet. (Who says grassroots politics is dead?)

I suspect he will try to get President Bush back on course rhetorically, stressing that Iraq is already in breach of UN resolutions. His view in a nutshell is, I believe: "Everyone knows Saddam's developing weapons of mass destruction. Everyone knows he'd use or threaten to use them if he could, so what else would you do to stop him?"

However this debate shapes up, I can't help feeling that Tony Blair will find that, like Harold Wilson before him, his stance towards an American war will make him a figure of hatred among a significant proportion of the Labour movement who will never forget and may never forgive.

Incidentally, it's a theory I once put to him on a flight to God knows where. His answer was a trademark withering look and the phrase "Thanks Nick".

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USER COMMENT
Boy, it's good to have you back! I hope you're well rested for the coming season, I'm really please you're there to guide us through it
Peter Kyle, England

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