TONY Blair has clashed with President George Bush over the go-ahead for a war
on Saddam Hussein.
The PM wants a fresh mandate from the United Nations for any military action.
He fears a split in the Government and a serious diplomatic rift between the West and Middle East states if the US and Britain go it alone. Foreign office advisers have told him the present UN mandate for sanctions against Iraq does not cover an armed attempt to topple Saddam.
And they insist a new vote for action should be taken by the UN security council, which would need the backing of Russia and China. But Mr Bush wants to press ahead with an attack to wrongfoot Saddam - and before opposition builds up too far in Western-friendly countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The rift raises the possibility of America going it alone without British troops.
The two leaders have privately agreed an attack will be necessary if Saddam continues to defy UN resolutions on weapons inspections. Mr Blair believes a pre-emptive strike on Iraq is necessary after September 11 to prevent "rogue" states sponsoring or carrying out further terrorist acts.
He believes public opinion will be more supportive if the two leaders are able to show that every diplomatic channel has been exhausted.
In phone calls over the past week Mr Blair has urged Mr Bush to seek the backing
of the UN to "legitimize' the assault in the eyes of the world.
Copyright 2002 Sunday Mirror