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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rumsfeld Remark Angers Britain and White House

WASHINGTON --The White House sought to patch up strains with its closest ally, Britain, on Wednesday after U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested the United States was ready to go to war with Iraq without British military support.

"The president is confident of the United Kingdom's role, the military role, in disarming Saddam Hussein because it's the right thing to do to preserve peace," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

White House officials were annoyed at Rumsfeld's suggestion that he later backtracked on after the remarks triggered a firestorm in Britain.

When pressed Tuesday whether Washington might go ahead without Britain because of rising political pressure on Prime Minister Tony Blair, Rumsfeld said it would be a decision for U.S. President George W. Bush to make.

"And to the extent they are able to participate -- in the event that the president decides to use force -- that would obviously be welcomed. To the extent they're not, there are work-arounds and they would not be involved, at least in that phase," Rumsfeld said.

But four hours later, after his remarks sparked anger in Britain, Rumsfeld issued another statement saying: "In the event that a decision to use force is made, we have every reason to believe there will be a significant military contribution from the United Kingdom."

Britain has sent about 25,000 troops to the Gulf region and has committed 42,000. The United States has dispatched 225,000 troops there.

The United States is already at odds with France, Russia and Germany over the U.S. drive for support for military action against Iraq and can ill afford a breach with Britain.

Blair is under enormous anti-war pressure at home and has been seeking to amend a draft new UN resolution to extend a proposed March 17 deadline for compliance and lay out some disarmament benchmarks for Iraq to carry out to avoid war.

"The president values the counsel of Prime Minister Blair, and this remains a diplomatic issue that the president is discussing with the United Kingdom as well as other nations...There's room for a little diplomacy here, but time is running out," Fleischer said.

The United States remained insistent on a Security Council vote on a new resolution by week's end even though the exact wording of it remains elusive.

U.S. officials have indicated some flexibility in the March 17 deadline but not by as much as a month, as some Security Council members have proposed.

The United States needs nine votes out of the 15-member Security Council -- with no vetoes from France or Russia -- to gain passage of the resolution.

Washington would view nine votes as a moral victory even if the measure were ultimately vetoed, as France and Russia have threatened to do.

Fleischer did not answer directly when asked if the United States would abide by the terms and deadlines of the resolution if it did receive nine or more votes but was ultimately vetoed and therefore rendered inoperative.