Published on Thursday, July 17, 2003 by Reuters
Blair Visits Bush with Clouds Over Iraq Victory
by Steve Holland
WASHINGTON - President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, architects of the Iraq war, will seek to emphasize the positive when they meet on Thursday despite postwar chaos and intelligence failures.
While Blair continues to face questions about weapons of mass destruction, Bush has come under fierce fire from Democrats over the almost daily deaths of U.S. soldiers under guerrilla attack in Iraq and his unsubstantiated allegation that Saddam sought uranium from Africa.
Sean McCormack, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said the two leaders would discuss Iraq, the Middle East, U.S.-European relations and the war on terrorism.
"They will discuss all the progress that has been made in freeing more than 20 million people from a brutal dictator and putting them on the path to controlling their own destiny," he said.
Blair will address a joint session of Congress before his White House visit. He will then fly to Asia for talks in Japan, South Korea and China.
Bush so far appears to be in a stronger political situation at home than Blair. His job approval ratings are still over 50 percent, but they are down from the 60 percent level he enjoyed recently. Pollsters blame the decline on the steady stream of U.S. casualties in Iraq.
BLAIR STANDS BEHIND URANIUM ALLEGATION
Bush is struggling to confront criticism of his State of the Union speech last January when he said Iraq was suspected of seeking uranium from Africa, a key detail to bolster the U.S. argument that Iraq wanted nuclear weapons.
He was forced to disown the comment and blame the CIA, but Blair said on Wednesday he stood behind the allegation.
He added that a controversial British dossier, which set out the uranium charges and said Iraq could unleash chemical and biological weapons at 45 minutes' notice, was accurate.
"I do not accept that people were misled at all. I stand entirely by what was in the dossier," Blair told Parliament. "I happen to believe we still did the right thing."
The U.S. side is also insistent that chemical and biological weapons will eventually be found in Iraq. Bush and Blair, who sent over 250,000 troops to invade Iraq and topple Saddam in March, based their case for war on his alleged weapons of mass destruction, but they have not been found.
The United States has begun discussions with other governments on the possibility of a new U.N. mandate for Iraq, where Washington has had trouble finding allies to share the burdens of reconstruction and military occupation.
A new mandate, probably giving the United Nations a more central role in running Iraq, could persuade some of Washington's allies to contribute troops and allow the Pentagon to withdraw some troops, whose families back home are increasingly agitated about the mission.
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