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Tuesday, 12 March, 2002, 06:11 GMT
Cheney and Blair give Iraq warning
Tony Blair (left) and Dick Cheney
Tony Blair and Dick Cheney stressed UK-US unity
Iraq poses a real threat to world stability but no decisions have been taken on how to tackle Saddam Hussein's build-up of weapons of mass destruction, Tony Blair has said.

The British prime minister's warning about the threat posed by Iraq was backed by US Vice-President Dick Cheney as the pair met in Downing Street.

There is a threat from Saddam Hussein and the weapons of mass destruction that he has acquired

Tony Blair

Their post-talks media conference came six months to the hour after the US terror attacks.

A possible second phase of the war against terrorism was on the agenda at the meeting, which comes before Mr Cheney embarks on a 10-day tour of the Middle-East.

Mr Blair said: "There is a threat from Saddam Hussein and the weapons of mass destruction that he has acquired. It is not in doubt at all."

Mr Blair said the coalition partners now needed to "reflect and deliberate" on how that problem should be addressed.

10-day mission

Mr Cheney and Mr Blair discussed the progress of the coalition formed in the wake of the US terror atrocities, as well as other issues such as US tariffs on steel imports.

Downing Street has said it has no evidence that Iraq was involved in the 11 September attacks.
Donald Anderson, Labour chairman of the Commons foreign affairs select committee
Labour MPs are urging caution towards US "hawks"

But the UK prime minister, who underlined the importance of restarting the Middle East peace process, stressed the progress that had been made in Afghanistan against the Taleban and al-Qaeda network.

Mr Cheney said it was important to prevent the "potential marriage" between that network and states which had nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

Mr Blair faces growing domestic disquiet over military action against Iraq - many Labour MPs are among the 70 who have signed a motion opposing action.

Labour MP Alice Mahon said Mr Blair should stop being the "little lapdog of America" and should steer away from a course that could start a third world war.

There is unease elsewhere in Europe about such action.

Richard Pearle, defence adviser to US President Bush, said he was disappointed that a number of America's friends in Europe were "nowhere to be seen" when US security was under threat.

Downing Street has published a document stressing that the war against international terrorism has a long way to run.

Coalition 'steadfast'

The 35-page document also says the war could include military action on targets other than Afghanistan.

It said: "There are many countries where adoption of terrorist methods or the presence of terrorist or extremist networks causes us grave concern.

"We will take action we deem necessary in support of this aim, including military action, if absolutely necessary."

Downing Street has dismissed reports that the US had requested 25,000 UK troops to join a possible 250,000-strong ground attack on Iraq, aimed at overthrowing President Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
The US has threatened to remove Saddam Hussein by force

Labour chairman of the Commons' foreign affairs committee, Donald Anderson, called on the UK government to calm any "reckless" elements in the Pentagon who were "on a roll".

Appeal for clarity

The US has threatened action against Iraq even if it lets UN weapons inspectors - who would establish how many weapons of mass destruction it has accumulated - back into the country.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell said Mr Blair should make it clear that "military action is not the first option, but should only be considered when all other reasonable options have been excluded".

Mr Cheney also met Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, who voiced his support for US action.

Mr Duncan Smith added: "It is vital that the reasons for dealing with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction are clearly spelled out."

A new poll suggests most people in the UK would support US military action against Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein.

Of 1,000 people surveyed by NOP for the Powerhouse programme on Channel 4, 54% supported such action, 35% were against and 11% were undecided.

Opinion was more divided over whether British troops should be involved - with 46% in favour and 43% against.

The BBC's David Shukman
"Washington's number 1 target is now Iraq"
The BBC's Mark Mardell
"The key to opinion is the strength of the evidence against Saddam Hussein"
Former weapons inspector Terry Taylor
"The way the Iraqis have dealt with inspectors is not encouraging"

Phase two?
Should action be taken against Iraq?
See also:

11 Mar 02 | Americas
Cheney's 'thinking through' tour
11 Mar 02 | Americas
US remembers 11 September
11 Mar 02 | Americas
War 'playing into al-Qaeda's hands'
11 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Bush adviser calls for Europe support
10 Mar 02 | UK Politics
UK plays down Iraq force 'requests'
09 Mar 02 | Middle East
Iraq attacks US over arms inspections
07 Mar 02 | Middle East
Washington's case against Saddam
11 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Labour MPs warn against Iraq action
11 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Blair faces war backlash
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