BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh
BBCi CATEGORIES   TV   RADIO   COMMUNICATE   WHERE I LIVE   INDEX    SEARCH 

BBC NEWS
 You are in:  UK Politics
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Interviews 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 


Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

SERVICES 
Sunday, 7 April, 2002, 20:45 GMT 21:45 UK
Blair faces dissent over Iraq
Tony Blair in Texas
Tony Blair is prepared to take military action
test hello test
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online's political correspondent travelling with the prime minister
line

If there was one thing Tony Blair's backbench rebels did not want to hear from the prime minister during his trip to Texas, it was the threat of military action against Iraq.

But that is exactly what they got when Mr Blair made his keynote speech at the end of the visit.

After speaking of the need to act against terrorism and the development of weapons of mass destruction - the charge always aimed at Saddam Hussein - he went on to declare: "if necessary the action should be military.....".

His words were unambiguous and will spark a major row with his critics in the cabinet and on the backbenches.

Peace initiative

No one who heard the speech was in any doubt about the message or that it was a significant hardening of the prime minister's stance.


It was the reference to possible future military action which was without doubt the most controversial aspect of his speech

Downing Street officials, however, were eager to stress the prime minister's call for Saudi Prince Abdullah's Middle East peace initiative to be written into a UN resolution.

They also underlined as important Mr Blair's offer to help monitor any ceasefire between Israel and Palestine.

And those elements of his speech were certainly significant.

Particularly if they meant, as was suggested, that President George W Bush now supported a peace plan which calls for Israel to withdraw to its pre-1997 boundaries.

Council of war

The spokesmen were also at pains to point out that military action against Iraq was not the first option against Saddam Hussein.


Backbench critics are likely to question whether Mr Blair's reference to military action was part of a deal

More important, they insisted, was Mr Blair's demand on Saddam to let weapons inspectors back into Iraq - a request no one expects the Iraqi dictator to meet.

But it was the reference to possible future military action which was without doubt the most controversial aspect of his speech. And it will cause huge ripples.

The prime minister was always eager that his summit with President Bush was not seen as a council of war.

And much of Downing Street's sensitivity to the concentration on that section of his speech was for fear it suggested that was precisely what the summit had been about.

Special relationship

What was abundantly clear during the trip was that, while there is deep opposition in Britain and the EU to military action against Iraq, things are very different in America and in the White House.

One of the prime minister's jobs was to underpin his post-11 September alliance with President Bush - whose rhetoric on Saddam has been particularly robust - while, at the same time, avoiding suggestions he was preparing for war.

He certainly seems to have strengthened his bond with the president but he flies back into a political storm at home.

Backbench critics are likely to question whether Mr Blair's reference to military action was part of a deal to swing the president behind the Abdullah peace plan, or something else.

And, while this visit to the president's home has undoubtedly served to underline the so-called special relationship between Mr Bush and Mr Blair, it may have done little to improve his relationship with sections of his own party.

See also:

07 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair - 'We are ready to act on Iraq'
06 Apr 02 | Middle East
US and UK demand Israel pullout
06 Apr 02 | Americas
Allies sit down to 'mammoth task'
03 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Short 'carpeted' over Iraq
24 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Straw bids to ease Iraq fears
01 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair to press ahead with US trip
12 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Straw outlines Iraq's 'severe threat'
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
US sends mixed signals on Mid-East
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK Politics stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK Politics stories