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Saturday, 7 September, 2002, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
Blair on diplomatic offensive again
George Bush and Tony Blair at Camp David last year
Talks between the two men are likely to last five hours

MPs want a chance to debate, but for Tony Blair, the emphasis for now is clearly on diplomacy.

An election in Sweden, a wedding in Madrid - they are both opportunities to meet, to engage, to put forward his point.

Little of any political consequence emerged from the marriage celebrations of Ana Aznar and Alejandro Agag, but its hard to believe Tony Blair did not at one stage have a quiet word in the ear of her father, the Spanish prime minister.

Downing Street denies it is a war council

His Italian counterpart, Silvio Berlusconi, was also there to be sounded out.

Then there is Russia's President Putin, who will be paid a visit early next month and whatever the original intention of the visit, Iraq will inevitably dominate.

'Mutual admiration'

The main focus for now, of course, will be on Camp David.

Mr Blair is due there late on Saturday afternoon and his talks with the US President George W Bush are scheduled to last around five hours.

Downing Street denies it is a war council, but in pondering what to do about Saddam Hussein's defiance of UN resolutions, the two leaders will not start sounding like military men.

Vladimir Putin
Mr Blair will visit Mr Putin next month
The prime minister's official spokesman has already acknowledged that the question of what kind of political set-up should follow the Saddam Hussein regime is one of the talking points.

Much sentimental nonsense has been written about the so-called "special relationship" between the UK and the US and warm words have exchanged in mutual admiration by Tony Blair and George Bush within the last few months.

But Camp David will be a real show of unity and support at a time when most world leaders seem anxious about the current intentions of the Bush administration.

'Long hard look'

It was clear in Sedgefield on Tuesday that Mr Blair is not backing Mr Bush out of slavish loyalty, but shares his analysis of the problem of Saddam Hussein and accepts what he suggests is the only reliable solution - regime change.

How that can be achieved in practical terms is hard to see, but this Saturday will be a chance to take a long hard look at the options.

In a documentary to be screened on the BBC this weekend, a former US secretary of state says Britain is a valued ally because politicians here have committed themselves to help - not just with rhetoric but with military hardware, "to pay the blood price", he says.

Questioned on this chilling observation, Mr Blair agreed it was what Americans needed: "They don't need to know simply that you're giving general expressions of support and sympathy - I mean that's easy frankly - they need to know are you prepared to commit, are you prepared to be there, and when the shooting starts, are you prepared to be there."

In posing that question, Mr Blair has explained more clearly than anyone why Mr Bush has invited him to Camp David.

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