| Tony Blair and George W. Bush at Camp David. (Reuters)
London, Sept. 8 (Reuters): British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who returned today from a summit with US President George W. Bush, said they had “total determination” to deal with Iraq but wanted the broadest international support.
Blair and Bush focused on a potential nuclear threat from Iraq at their Camp David talks yesterday, but both leaders left open whether they would take military action to counter it without the backing of other states.
Bush goes to the United Nations on Thursday to put the case for tough action to disarm Iraq, although key Security Council members Russia and France have already expressed grave doubts. China is also sceptical.
Aware of such splits, Iraq's foreign minister repeated in an interview today Baghdad’s offer to accept the return of UN arms inspectors — but only under a comprehensive deal that would lift a crippling 12-year-old embargo imposed for Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait that was ended by the 1991 Gulf War.
Offering support for Baghdad from an unlikely source, one former UN inspector turned up in Baghdad today to plead Iraq’s cause and address parliament. Scott Ritter, who quit his UN post in 1998, says Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction.
Blair, whose summit with Bush followed a major US-British air strike on an Iraqi command-and-control post in western Iraq on Thursday, told Sky News television that the US and Britain would not act without consulting their allies.
“We have a total determination to deal with this issue. But we do want to deal with it on the basis of the broadest possible international support,” Blair said.
“I think what people have been worried about is: are we simply going to go off without any consultation or discussion with allies' That is not the case.”
Unless action was taken, Iraq would carry on developing weapons of mass destruction, he said, adding: “At some point, and I can’t say it is going to be next month or even next year, but at some point as a result of that, the danger will explode.”
Before their summit, Bush and Blair cited security reports of new construction at sites previously linked to Baghdad’s weapons programmes and intelligence about Saddam having been close to acquiring nuclear capability as evidence to support swift action against Iraq.
Later, US officials said they had information that Iraq was intensifying its bid for nuclear weapons with a global search for materials to make a nuclear bomb. Like Blair, Bush made clear the means of ousting Saddam and countering any nuclear threat was not finally decided.
“There’s all kinds of ways to change regimes,” he said.
Amid stepped up Iraqi moves in the face of US threats, foreign minister Naji Sabri repeated Baghdad’s conditions for a return of UN weapons inspectors, who left in 1998 before a US-British bombing campaign against Iraq.
He told the Saudi paper al-Watan Iraq “will not allow the return of international inspectors unless under a comprehensive package under which a timetable is set to end the sanctions.”
Backing Baghdad’s line, former arms inspector Ritter said his trip to Baghdad was at his own initiative “...as an American citizen concerned about the direction that my country is taking, I think that’s the reason why I’m here.”
“I’m here to help set in motion a sequence of events that hopefully could prevent a war that doesn’t need to be fought,” he told CNN.