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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 25 March, 2003, 14:54 GMT
Blair's transatlantic warning

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Blair will face French opposition head on
Tony Blair has given his clearest warning yet of the threat to the world order posed by a continuing rift between Europe and the US in the wake of the Iraq war.

In what he confessed was undiplomatic language, he put French President Jacques Chirac on notice that this was an issue that had to be "sorted out" once the conflict was over.

And he reminded him that, if the 10 countries about to join the EU had been taken into account, Britain had commanded a majority over the war.

The unspoken threat here was that these countries were more likely in future to rally to the UK flag and give his own position within the EU a major boost.

The prime minister's monthly press conference was dominated by the progress of the military campaign in Iraq.

Mr Blair insisted the action was going exactly to plan and that there would come a time when the cowed Iraqi population felt free to welcome the US-UK troops as liberators.

Nothing personal

But he also looked beyond the conflict to the rebuilding of the country - and the rebuilding of dangerously fractured international relations.

He was unusually blunt in his description of the falling out between France and the US-UK axis over the war.

He acknowledge there was a deep and serious rift between him and President Chirac.

He insisted it was nothing personal, but made it crystal clear he was no longer prepared to allow the current situation to continue.

Blair will urge EU alliance with Bush
He once again expressed his deep fears that there was a movement in Europe - partly driven by anti-Americanism - that wanted to see the EU and the US facing each other as rivals rather than partners.

That, he suggested, would be an historic mistake which would make the world a more dangerous place.

It was an issue that needed to be brought out into the open and faced head on, he said.

Unequal partners

This, of course, is one of the prime minister's passions.

He has always seen himself as the bridge between a US with isolationist tendencies and an EU with a strain of anti-Americanism running through it.

And he has long been determined to bring these two blocks together for what he believes would be the benefit of the entire planet.

But that task has been made hugely more difficult by the fundamental split over this war.

The suspicion in some EU countries and with some sections of the public, is that this would be an unequal partnership.

They believe the conduct leading up to the war suggests the US would only countenance such a partnership so long as it held the whip hand.

More fundamentally, many do not see the same natural alliance between their countries and the US that the prime minister sees between London and Washington.

Overcoming this is a major challenge that has been made infinitely more difficult by the events of the past few months.

Tony Blair clearly believes he is the man to tackle it.

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