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Analysis: Tony Blair Attempting to Shore Up Support in British Parliament for War Against Iraq

Morning Edition: September 24, 2002

Blair's Dossier



BOB EDWARDS, host:

In recent days, most Democratic leaders in Congress have been reluctant to oppose the president's request for a free hand in Iraq, but in San Francisco yesterday, former Vice President Al Gore strongly cautioned President Bush against acting alone or acting too soon.

Former Vice President AL GORE: The resulting chaos, in the aftermath of a military victory in Iraq, could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam. If we end the war in Iraq the way we ended the war in Afghanistan, we could very well be much worse off than we are today.

EDWARDS: Gore said if the United States wanted to go after Saddam Hussein as if he were an outlaw, it would be good to organize a posse first by rounding up support from allies and the United Nations.

One of the Bush administration's most supportive allies is Britain's Tony Blair. Today the British prime minister addressed Parliament on the case for military action against Iraq.

Prime Minister TONY BLAIR (Britain): His weapons of mass destruction program is active, detailed and growing. The policy of containment is not working. The weapons of mass destruction program is not shut down; it is up and running now.

EDWARDS: Blair's remarks followed the British government's release of a dossier outlining Iraq's attempts to rebuild its arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration called the document frightening and says it's an indication that President Saddam Hussein has no interest in peace. The British Parliament is debating the dossier's claim that Iraq could inflict significant damage on the Middle East and threaten global security. NPR's Nick Spicer is in London.

What else is in this document?

NICK SPICER reporting:

The document basically says Iraq has weapons that it is not allowed to have and plans to use them, including against its own people. Some analysts who have read the report are saying that its 50 pages provide little new evidence. What they say is new, however, is that Iraq can launch weapons of mass destruction on 45 minutes' notice; also that there is an attempt in Iraq to build nuclear weapons with uranium imported from Africa. Otherwise, the report says, Iraq is actively building stocks of chemical and biological weapons and extending the range of its missiles so they can strike targets up to 400 miles away. And all of these problems, the report says, are made worse by the fact that better concealment techniques have been learned by Iraq because of previous weapons inspections.

EDWARDS: Blair's trying to persuade Parliament, but he even has to persuade some members of his own Cabinet.

SPICER: That's right. He has a three-part selling job, in one sense. The first is the Cabinet. Last night he held an emergency meeting to tell his ministers to toe the line. Two of them have been warning against military action, about the effects it might have on the Iraqi people, about possibly undermining the United Nations if no international green light is given. Some of them have also expressed concerns about an appearance of a double standard. They feel that it could be seen as unfair if Israel is not forced to apply UN resolutions, but Iraq is.

Second, there's a sales job to Parliament and the party, the Labour Party. Some Labour members are hostile, and in Parliament, 160 MPs have signed a motion expressing grave concern should any action be undertaken without UN approval. And then the third sales job is to public opinion as a whole. Polls show that a slight majority of people are against an attack on Iraq, but more importantly for Tony Blair, two-thirds of people say they could be persuaded to approve an attack if provided with the proper evidence, which explains Tony Blair's dossier.

Finally, even if Blair manages to persuade people with his report and its allegations, there's still an obstacle because over 80 percent of people would like UN approval and MPs to debate the issue before any military strike takes place. So it's not quite a carte blanche.

EDWARDS: Does Blair need a vote of approval in Parliament in order to join a US military operation against Iraq?

SPICER: That isn't on the agenda today. Some backbench Labour members and members of other parties may try to force a vote, but that's definitely not what Tony Blair and his Cabinet are planning on.

EDWARDS: NPR's Nick Spicer in London.

The time is 19 minutes past the hour.

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