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Wednesday, 28 August, 2002, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
UK denies US rift over Iraq
Tony Blair and George Bush
Blair has stood "shoulder to shoulder" with Bush
Downing Street has denied claims there is a rift between the UK and US over how to deal with Saddam Hussein.

The rebuttal comes after a former US ambassador said senior advisers to Tony Blair felt they were getting nothing back for their support to Washington over Iraq.

We are 100% agreed with the United States that the issue of weapons of mass destruction has to be dealt with

Downing Street
Mr Blair's official spokesman said the UK and America were "100% agreed" that Iraq's alleged build-up of weapons of mass destruction had to be dealt with.

Those comments will not, however, stop the perception that there is clear water between American talk of forcing an Iraqi "regime change" and British emphasis on restarting weapons inspections.

Cheney's war talk

The spokesman said that Mr Blair has made it clear in the past the world would be a better place without Saddam Hussein, but that the "primary concern" must be weapons of mass destruction.

He added: "We have to press for weapons inspectors but bear in mind that Saddam Hussein has played games with that before and think through what happens if he does not comply.

"It is wrong to heighten expectation that decisions have been taken when they have not."

Labour MP Donald Anderson, chairman of the Commons foreign affairs select committee, has pointed to a "fundamental" divide between the US and UK positions.

That came after US Vice-President Dick Cheney gave one of the clearest signals yet that America intended to topple Saddam Hussein, while British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said war could be avoided.

Richard Holbrooke
Holbrooke's words suggest unease in Downing Street
Speculation about unease between London and the White House was fuelled by comments from Richard Holbrooke, who was US ambassador to the United Nations under Bill Clinton, in the Washington Post newspaper.

Mr Holbrooke said: "Last month a senior adviser to Tony Blair told me bitterly that Washington was giving Blair nothing in return for Blair's unstinting support, even as British domestic opposition to Blair's pro-American position is growing."

Former Labour Foreign Office Minister Tony Lloyd told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Wednesday that America should remember it needed its allies.

"If there are not consulting Tony Blair, one of the most natural American allies in the world, then those who are suspicious about the American action at the moment are vindicated," said Mr Lloyd.

Allies debate

Despite such concerns, most commentators believe the UK would support America if it did decide to take action against Saddam Hussein.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he is confident America will get international backing if it decides on action.

Mr Lloyd said most people in the UK had not begun to be persuaded that such an attack would be right.

Tony Lloyd, former Foreign Office Minister
Tony Lloyd says the public are unpersuaded
The MP warned that the more American "hawks" talked up prospects of attack, the more difficult it would be for President George Bush to "get off the war machine".

That view is bolstered by an ICM poll for the Guardian on Wednesday.

According to the survey, 52% of voters think Tony Blair should not support the American policy on Iraq, with 30% in favour of giving UK backing.

United Nations weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998 and since then have not been allowed to return.

Saudi concerns

This month, Iraq offered to hold talks with UN officials about the possible return of inspectors.

But the latest offer fell short of the UN's insistence that such an invitation must be unconditional.

US President George Bush tried to reassure Saudi Arabian officials at his Texas ranch on Tuesday.

No decisions on military action had been taken, he said, and America's allies would be consulted before they were.

Opposition in the UK to action against Iraq is set to be aired at next month's Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party conference.

The BBC's Guto Harri reports
"Tony Blair wants to see weapons inspectors back in Iraq as soon as possible"
Donald Anderson, Commons Foreign Affairs committee
"The divide is fundamental"
Jack Spencer, Heritage Foundation
"Everyone is in agreement"

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See also:

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