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Wednesday, 21 August, 2002, 06:25 GMT 07:25 UK
UK support on Iraq 'is assumed'
Tony Blair and George Bush
Blair has impressed Americans with his support
The American public is taking it for granted that the UK will join any attack on Iraq, according to a former senior US general.

With Tony Blair a close supporter of the US president, Americans would be shocked if he did not support military action against Saddam Hussein, says General Wesley Clark.

It hasn't really penetrated popular understanding in the US that there is some possibility the UK wouldn't be there with us

General Wesley Clark
Downing Street has said Iraq will be on the agenda in cabinet when ministers return from their holidays next month.

That is being seen as a victory for ministers like Robin Cook, who are said to have pressed for a full cabinet discussion on the issue.

High expectations

The UK continues to say that action to stop Iraq's alleged build-up of weapons of mass destruction is neither imminent nor inevitable.

On Tuesday, General Clark, who was Nato Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said the concerns of British opponents of an Iraq war did "make the press" across the Atlantic.

But he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Tony Blair's behaviour since September 11 has left Americans automatically assuming he will back any decision taken by US President George Bush.

General Wesley Clark
Clark thinks there can be a "decisive result" without war
"The support of Britain is assumed. I think it would be shocking if Britain did not go along with the United States."

Americans have been impressed with Mr Blair's support for their president in recent months.

General Clark said: "I think it hasn't really penetrated popular understanding in the United States that there is some possibility that the UK wouldn't be there with us."

War alternatives

There was a 65-70% chance of American-led strikes on Iraq, said the former military chief.

He argued that using international law and diplomatic pressure from the international community could achieve a "decisive result" in Iraq without military action.

Robin Cook
Robin Cook is said to be worried about war
"We would have a much better result of not just taking down Saddam Hussein's regime but in controlling proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, in preventing the inflammation of the Arab world and in dealing with the aftermath in Iraq," he added.

Press reports have suggested Commons leader Mr Cook is ready to spearhead opposition in the cabinet to military action.

Last week Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said there were differences of opinion over the issue but dismissed as "prattle" reports of a split.

Downing Street too has rejected reports that Mr Blair has blocked a cabinet debate about Iraq.


On Monday, a Number 10 spokeswoman said Iraq would be one of a "whole range of issues" to be covered when cabinet meetings restart next month.

The prospect of war is also expected to dominate Labour's annual conference in Blackpool next month.

Some reports have suggested Chancellor Gordon Brown harbours doubts about a possible war with Iraq, partly because of the effect it could have on the economy.

Oil prices have already risen, with uncertainty over the Middle East seen as the prime reason.

Last weekend, former cabinet minister Peter Mandelson dismissed any suggestion the cost of action would make Mr Brown refuse to pay for it.

Costs of war

That view was questioned by Conservative MP John Maples, who was financial secretary to the Treasury during the Gulf War.

Mr Maples told BBC Radio 4's World At One programme on Tuesday that Mr Brown would be contemplating the direct cost of war and how it could affect spending on public services, as well as its possible impact on the economy.

The Gulf War cost the UK 2.5bn, although it was able to recoup about 2bn from other countries who did not contribute troops - something which might not happen again.

The Treasury's contingency fund for tackling emergencies currently stands at 2.1bn.

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