- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2003

British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrives in Washington today for talks with President Bush as public support in his own country for using force against Iraq has edged above 50 percent for the first time in months.
Mr. Blair also will meet with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan tomorrow in New York, where Security Council diplomats say Russia and Syria are holding up a draft resolution to restart the humanitarian oil-for-food program in Iraq for "political reasons."
The United States and Britain are pushing for a resolution to give Mr. Annan authority to administer the 6-year-old program, which was suspended when the war began.
Mr. Blair yesterday called on the United States and European nations to set aside their differences and unite in rebuilding Iraq, saying that reconstruction will be too costly for Washington and London to handle alone.
"I will see President Bush at Camp David to discuss not just the military campaign, but also the diplomatic implications of recent events for the future, in particular how we get America and Europe working again together as partners and not as rivals," he said at a press conference in London.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard has declined an invitation to attend the snap Bush-Blair summit, a spokesman in Sydney said today.
The spokesman said Mr. Bush had asked Mr. Howard in a phone call Friday to visit Washington to discuss the unfolding conflict, but the Australian leader had declined, saying he thought it best he stay in Australia at the moment.
In a separate development, Saudi Arabia said yesterday that it had proposed a peace plan to the United States and Iraq, but Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, declined to give details and Washington said it had not seen any such plan.
Mr. Blair has been gaining support at home for his tough stance on Iraq since military action began, despite early British casualties.
A poll in the Guardian newspaper yesterday showed that 54 percent of Britons back the use of force against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, up from 38 percent a week ago. At the same time, opposition to the war has dropped from 44 percent to 30 percent.
According to a poll for the News of the World tabloid, 55 percent approve of Mr. Blair's handling of the crisis, a 26 percent jump from two weeks ago.
A rebellion in Mr. Blair's Labor Party that embarrassed him earlier this month also has lost strength. He picked up about 50 parliamentary votes from within his party when the House of Commons voted 412-149 last week to approve participation in the war.
There are about 45,000 British troops in the Persian Gulf, as well as 120 tanks, a naval task force and more than 100 warplanes. Two Britons have been killed in combat, and 18 have died in accidents and by friendly fire.
Mr. Blair said yesterday that the coalition forces will face "resistance all the way to the end of this campaign" and that "it will take time and perseverance and the continuing skill and dedication and professionalism of our armed forces to break [Saddams regime] down."
He singled out as "the most important humanitarian priority" the resumption of the oil-for-food program, which spends $10 billion a year and helps 60 percent of the Iraqi people daily.
"The coalition will secure conditions in which the U.N. agencies and others … can operate efficiently and provide that humanitarian relief," he said.
Mr. Blair also appeared more eager than U.S. officials have been in recent days to see the United Nations involved not only in humanitarian operations in a post-Saddam Iraq, but also in facilitating the transition of power to a local government.
"The United Nations must be centrally involved in dealing both with the humanitarian crisis and in helping Iraq rebuild itself once Saddam has gone," Mr. Blair said.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who met with visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio yesterday, said the United States and Britain were discussing with other Security Council members what kind of administration will be established in Iraq after the war and what kind of U.N. mandate that authority might need.
The Bush administration maintains that the United States and Britain have sufficient authority under international law to administer the country until a local civilian government is put in place.
Mr. Powell expressed frustration that Russia and "other council members" are refusing to agree to an oil-for-food resolution.
Council diplomats in New York said the only other member holding up the draft is Syria, but Washington and London have given up on its consent, which is not crucial because Damascus does not have veto power.
"France has had worries that the United States and Britain are playing politics by trying to use the resolution to legitimize their invasion of Iraq," but it dropped its objections after the two allies insisted the issue was strictly "technical and humanitarian," one diplomat said.
"Russia and Syria are in a completely different category they themselves are trying to play politics," the diplomat said. "They would not accept anything suggesting that the United Nations would be replacing what they view as the legitimate Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein."
U.S. and British officials said they still were hoping to bring Russia on board in the next few days. If it continues to balk, they said they will table the resolution, challenging Moscow to veto a humanitarian measure.
Negotiations are being held in the U.N. Sanctions Committee, which is led by Germany.
In its capacity, Berlin put together the draft, which is based mainly on ideas from Mr. Annan with U.S. and British suggestions, diplomats said.

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