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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 March, 2003, 17:13 GMT
Presenting a united front

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Side by side against the critics
Tony Blair and George Bush wanted two clear messages to come from their war summit.

They wanted to dismiss suggestions the military campaign has run into trouble, with the coalition forces facing far stiffer resistance than expected.

And they wanted to underline the strength of their alliance and suggest there is not even a cigarette paper's difference between them over the post-war arrangements.

It is far from certain, however, that they succeeded in their aim.

First, both were notably downbeat about the future progress of the war - insisting the campaign would last as long as was necessary to disarm the Iraqi regime and remove Saddam.

There was no hint that they believed this could all be over in a matter of weeks, let alone days.

Secondly, while insisting they were united in their desire to see a broadly based administration after the war, there was clearly no agreement over the level of the UN involvement in that.

Standing together

What did shine through their joint press conference with absolute clarity though was their personal alliance.

The president praised Tony Blair for his courage, loyalty and vision.

And the prime minister hailed Mr Bush's strength and leadership.

Bush advisers sceptical of UN
There was a real sense of two men standing together against the world.

It is not quite like that, of course. They do not stand alone, but neither do they command the level of support available in the 1991 conflict - despite the president's claims.

They also both insisted, with more than a little justification, that the military campaign had proved a major success with regrettable, but minimal loss of life.

The implicit message was that claims it was taking longer and facing stiffer resistance than expected were a result of over excitement by the media.

That ignored the fact that wounded US soldiers told a press conference in Germany that they had been told not to expect strong resistance.

Outlined fears

But it is the differences over the post-war administration of Iraq has the potential to prove a real problem - particularly for the prime minister.

He has been here before - promising UN involvement against a reluctant US and then failing to get it.

If that happens again he will face severe criticisms at home. So he is carefully damping down expectations, talking about UN "endorsement" rather than control.

The danger of him is that his anti-war rebels have seen nothing so far to change their minds about this action and his claimed sidelining of the UN.

They are insisting the UN must take over the interim administration of Iraq and that it should not turn into a US-run regime.

If that does not happen it will intensify the looming attacks on the prime minister's handling of this entire crisis.

Mr Blair will have outlined his fears to the president and urged him to take them into account when considering the post-war arrangements.

But the president faces his own pressures, particularly from those of his advisers who were always suspicious of the UN and feel their scepticism about is has been borne out.

However, these are political battles yet to come.

For now, both men want to concentrate on winning the real war.




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