London, US united on UN role over Iraq

 

BRITAIN: The United Kingdom and the United States were at one last night in their resolve to shape a "difficult but defining moment" for the United Nations over Iraq.

The British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, welcomed President Bush's speech to the UN in which he said President Saddam Hussein must be stripped of his weapons of mass destruction or else of power, and, crucially, that the US government was ready "to work with the UN Security Council to meet our common challenge".

As Mr Blair consulted opposition party leaders about the recall of parliament - confirmed for September 24th - the President's challenge to the UN to see its own resolutions honoured enabled Downing Street to point to an apparently growing convergence between the US and European positions on action over Iraq.

How long that will hold will depend on the detail of intense negotiations, begun almost immediately after the President's speech and likely to last several weeks. These will deal with the terms of a fresh UN resolution coupling an almost certainly time-limited demand for the reinstatement of weapons inspectors with an explicit threat of force to follow continued Iraqi non-compliance.

As the spotlight turned on those negotiations in New York the British Foreign Secretary, Mr Jack Straw, stressed the urgency of the situation. Hailing the President's "powerful and effective" speech, Mr Straw said: "The UK will be working very closely with the US and other partners on the Security Council. This is an urgent matter. No one who heard President Bush's speech can be in any doubt whatsoever about the urgency of dealing with Saddam Hussein, and the responsibility that rests on the shoulders of the United Nations."

He continued: "We are in the UK profoundly committed to the rule of international law. Iraq is in the clearest and most outrageous breach of international law."

With Mr Blair still facing substantial Labour resistance to war, Downing Street plainly welcomed the priority being given to the UN as the preferred route for resolving the crisis. At the same time it was again made clear Mr Blair does not reckon on an endless UN "process" as an instrument of further delay.

A spokesman said: "He has always believed the UN was the right place to deal with the issue of Iraq and weapons of mass destruction because it is the UN's authority that has been consistently flouted. But this must be on the basis that the issue is dealt with, not avoided."

That won the backing of the Conservative leader, Mr Iain Duncan Smith, who, like the Liberal Democrats leader, Mr Charles Kennedy, had earlier discussed the situation with Mr Blair in talks at No 10.

Mr Duncan Smith said the proposed UN resolution should spell out that failure to comply on the part of Iraq would mean there was no other option than regime change and should contain a time limit for President Saddam's compliance.

However, the Conservative leader was less helpful to Mr Blair when he seemed to back demands from Labour's anti-war veterans and others that MPs should have an opportunity to vote on the substantive issue - rather than simply on the technical motion for the adjournment of the House - at the conclusion of almost 12 hours' debate on September 24th.