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EDITIONS
Sunday, 8 September, 2002, 11:01 GMT 12:01 UK
Blair returns with hardened resolve
Blair and Bush
Standing shoulder to shoulder at Camp David

It may only have lasted just over three hours but Tony Blair's war summit with President Bush may turn out to have been one of the turning points of his premiership.

He went to Camp David, the president's Maryland retreat, with a chorus of domestic and international voices urging caution not military action over Iraq.

But as he flew back into the UK - and despite the emphasis put by the two men on a concerted new diplomatic push - the talk of war had, if anything, got louder as a result of the trip.

The prime minister returned first to Scotland for his annual meeting with the Queen at Balmoral, when he was expected to brief her on the summit and any possible future action.

TUC address

In the coming days he will be meeting senior MPs in the Commons to brief them on the current state of intelligence about Saddam's weapons potential and the possible options for action.

The long-promised dossier of evidence against Saddam is expected to be published before the Labour party conference in two weeks' time.

And, in speeches to the Labour and TUC conferences, the prime minister will stress the central role of the UN in tackling the issue.

He will tell the unions that the UN now has a chance to boost its authority by tackling the problem of Saddam head-on.

Blair faces press
Blair at St Andrews air force base before leaving US

British officials, speaking on the return flight, said the speech would say the UN is the right place to deal with this but it has to address the issue properly.

"We cannot have a situation where year after year and on issue after issue he flouts the will of the international community."

It is a message that will be welcome at the conferences but will not remove deep fears over possible war.

Just hours before returning home, in a sombre end-of-summit press conference and a series of interviews, the prime minister spelt out in direct terms that doing nothing was not an option.

Timetable

More than war, people should fear inaction which would allow Saddam to develop nuclear weapons with which he would then threaten both the region and the world, he said.

He added that he could not put a timetable on action, but suggested it was only a matter of time before Saddam succeeded in his ambition of building a nuclear arsenal.

But few were left in any doubt that he was thinking in terms of just a few months, with any possible action coming this winter or, perhaps more likely, early next year.

But in the immediate future there will be a major stepping up of the campaign of persuasion aimed at the country, the international community and, crucially, his own supporters.

It will be backed up by the eventual publication of the long-promised document of evidence against Saddam.

But it will need to do more than simply draw together all the existing known intelligence if the doubters are to be convinced.

Confident

It will have to show pretty conclusively that Iraq is, as claimed, within an ace of developing a nuclear capability.

And if he fails in his ambition to win those doubters around to his campaign then his leadership of his party and the country and his standing on the global stage will suffer a severe knock.

He appeared as confident as ever during this trip that he could win people over.

He spoke of other leaders - presumably the likes of Russia's President Vladimir Putin and other UN security council members - being at "first base" and said the debate over Iraq was only at its beginning.

But he also insisted that those he had spoken to were well aware of the danger posed by Saddam and the need to do something.

The issue was still precisely what to do.

Coercive inspections

There has been much talk during the past 24 hours of UN resolutions, "coercive" weapons inspections and proceeding in a "sensible and measured" way against Saddam, as had been done over Iraq and even Kosovo before that.

And there will now be that concentrated period of negotiation and attempts to win some sort of UN backing before action is taken.

President Bush will do his bit in an address to the UN on Thursday in which he may seek the setting of a deadline for the readmission of weapons inspectors.

He may even propose the coercive inspections where troops would be on hand to force Saddam to open his sites or face wider action.

Meanwhile Mr Blair will attend the TUC and Labour party conferences, both taking place in Blackpool, and visit President Putin as part of the campaign of persuasion.

Anyone hoping the meeting between the prime minister and the president would calm the growing sense of inevitability of war will have been disappointed.

If anything, the president's determination to remove Saddam Hussein from power by, if necessary, military means appeared as strong as ever.

All eyes will now focus on the president's speech to the UN on Thursday and the prime minister's key conference speeches to the TUC on Tuesday and the Labour conference three weeks later.


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07 Sep 02 | Middle East
06 Sep 02 | Middle East
05 Sep 02 | Americas
07 Sep 02 | Media reports
06 Sep 02 | In Depth
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