- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 7, 2002

LONDON Britain is prepared to shed blood to support its friend and ally the United States, Prime Minister Tony Blair said in comments broadcast yesterday.

Mr. Blair, who is traveling to Camp David in Maryland for a quick summit today, has been President Bush's staunchest ally in the war on terrorism and has, in principle, backed a military attack to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein despite strong reservations at home.

In a British Broadcasting Corp. documentary, to be screened tomorrow, Mr. Blair said the two countries' “special relationship” had to be backed up with action.

Asked whether Britain was “prepared to send troops to commit themselves, to pay the blood price?” Mr. Blair responded. “Yes.”

“What is important is that at moments of crisis they don't need to know simply that you are giving general expressions of support and sympathy,” Mr. Blair said.

“That is easy, frankly. They need to know: Are you prepared to commit; are you prepared to be there when the shooting starts?”

Mr. Blair has puzzled many in Britain with his unwavering support of the United States' tough stance on Iraq, while other traditional American allies have distanced themselves.

With many Britons opposed to war against Iraq, it's hard to know who opposes a U.S.-led war against Baghdad the most: the churches, the general public or parts of Mr. Blair's own Labor Party.

This week Mr. Blair has intensified his efforts to rally international support for an attack.

Mr. Blair met Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal yesterday and talked by phone with the leaders of France and Russia, both of which hold a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

The talks came after meetings late Thursday in Spain with his Spanish and Italian counterparts.

Mr. Blair has strongly and personally supported Mr. Bush and the United States in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. British forces were the first to join U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan.

In a speech this week, Mr. Blair called the criticism in Europe of the U.S. position regarding Iraq “just straightforward anti-Americanism” and of the American president “a parody of the George Bush that I know and work with.”

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made clear yesterday that allied patience with Baghdad had its limits after Iraq's repeated flouting of international law.

“It would be wildly irresponsible to argue that patience with Iraq should be unlimited or that military action should not be an option,” Reuters news agency quoted Mr. Straw as saying.

It was not a message most Britons wanted to hear.

A recent ICM Research poll suggested that 71 percent of voters oppose Britain joining a war against Iraq that lacks U.N. approval.

“It will be damaging for the prime minister to stubbornly go on supporting Bush,” left-wing Labor Party lawmaker Alice Mahon said Wednesday. “A vast array of people are saying, Do not do it.'”

Nor is Mr. Blair's strong support for Washington shared by many traditional American allies in Europe.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder rebuffed Mr. Blair's calls for Europe to help the United States against Iraq, saying Germany remains opposed to military action and won't “submit” to Washington.

There are also signs of dissent in Mr. Blair's Cabinet, with a handful of left-wing ministers expressing unease about the prime minister's stance on Iraq. Clare Short, Mr. Blair's secretary of state of international development, has warned that it would be “enormously dangerous” for the United States to take unilateral action against Iraq.

On Thursday, Robin Cook, Mr. Blair's House of Commons leader, said the legislature must debate the government's Iraq policy and that a war there would require the same kind of coalition that fought in Afghanistan.

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