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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cheney Takes Iraq Case to Britain

LONDON -- U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney moved Monday to quiet British critics of possible military action against Iraq, as he set out on his first overseas trip as vice president, a 12-nation journey to round up support for the next phase in the war against terrorism.

Cheney, in a luncheon with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, heard no open discussion of reluctance to expand the war to encompass Iraq. But growing unease within Blair's Labor Party over taking on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has formed a backdrop to the vice president's visit here before he moved on to the Middle East and Persian Gulf, where the anxiety is palpable.

With Blair at his side at a news conference at 10 Downing Street, the prime minister's office and residence, Cheney said the United States and Britain would act against Iraq "only in the closest possible consultation-coordination."

And Blair, who plans to visit U.S. President George W. Bush in Texas next month, with Iraq high on the agenda, took pains to emphasize that no decisions had been made. However, he said, "this is a time when we discuss how important it is that the issue of weapons of mass destruction is properly dealt with."

The vice president's visit was being regarded here as the opening strategy meeting for what Washington is increasingly presenting as an inevitable campaign to eliminate the threat posed by whatever chemical weapons, or other weapons of mass destruction, Saddam has at his disposal.

Blair is leaving all options open without publicly promising military aid now.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the prime minister took a leading role in making the public case for attacking the al-Qaida terrorist network. Similarly, he laid out Monday the argument against Saddam.

"The threat of weapons of mass destruction will have to be addressed," Blair said. "Let's be under no doubt whatever," he said forcefully. "Saddam Hussein has acquired weapons of mass destruction over a long period of time. ... He's in breach of at least nine UN Security Council resolutions about weapons of mass destruction."

But the prime minister faces growing opposition from the British public and members of his Labour Party to a military campaign to topple Saddam. Seventy Labour members of Parliament have signed a letter expressing "deep unease" at the prospect of British involvement in a military operation. One Cabinet minister, International Development Secretary Clare Short, expressed outright opposition.

In the letter, Blair's political allies said that any military action against Iraq should be under UN sponsorship and only after an Iraqi weapons buildup has been proved.

They said their discomfort grew with news last weekend that the Pentagon was seeking the development of nuclear weapons suited for use against Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Libya.

"This will encourage nuclear proliferation and perhaps take us all one step closer to war," they wrote, urging instead that Iraq be pressured to readmit UN weapons inspectors.

Previewing an argument he is likely to make when he reaches the Middle East, Cheney said the Pentagon had not targeted weapons on those countries, even as nuclear policies had been shifted to reflect new threats.

The United Nations and Iraq are scheduled to discuss next month the conditions for readmitting inspectors. Cheney said inspectors must operate without limits, under a "go anywhere any time kind of regime" to determine that Saddam is not hiding anything.

The vice president left Britain on Tuesday on an 11-day tour that will take him to nearly every Middle Eastern and Persian Gulf state except Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq.