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Bush and Blair, United in Unwavering Stance on Iraq Policy, Part on Mideast Plan

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But even as he put up a united front on Iraq, Mr. Blair distanced himself a bit from Mr. Bush's new stand on the Arab-Israeli conflict....Mr. Blair signaled that he now wanted the emphasis to shift to helping the Palestinians achieve the promise of an independent, viable state.

April 17, 2004


New York TImes

WASHINGTON, April 16 — President Bush met Friday with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and emerged to say that the United States and its allies would not waver from their commitment to help the Iraqi people achieve peace and democracy.

"Britain and America and our allies can either break our word to the people of Iraq, abandon them in their hour of need and consign them to oppression, or we can help them defeat the enemies of a free Iraq and build the institutions of liberty," Mr. Bush said. "The prime minister and I have made our choice: Iraq will be free. Iraq will be independent. Iraq will be a peaceful nation."

Mr. Bush welcomed the plan being developed by a United Nations envoy for the establishment of a caretaker government as part of the American schedule to restore sovereignty to Iraq on June 30, a deadline he and Mr. Blair said they would not budge from no matter the difficulties ahead.

"It was never going to be easy and it isn't now," Mr. Blair said.

In their joint appearance before reporters in the White House Rose Garden, the two leaders sought to emphasize that they would not back down from a conflict in Iraq that the Bush administration had suggested would be far simpler, at least after the fall of Baghdad, than it turned out to be.

In emphasizing their duty to stand by the Iraqi people, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair continued their shift away from their original rationale for the war, their accusation that Saddam Hussein had an arsenal of chemical and biological weapons and was making progress on his nuclear program. No banned weapons have been found in Iraq.

Asked directly whether he and Mr. Bush had misled their nations in taking them to war, Mr. Blair replied that most of the world considered Mr. Hussein a threat, that he was an instigator of wars that caused millions of casualties and that the Iraqi people were waiting to see whether the allies would follow through on their promises to help create a peaceful democracy in their country.

The people of Iraq are "going to be sitting there, asking after all the decades of tyranny we've had, after all the promises that the international community gave us and frankly let us down on, are these people going to stay the course?" Mr. Blair said. "And we are, and we want the international community to work with us in doing that."

But even as he put up a united front on Iraq, Mr. Blair distanced himself a bit from Mr. Bush's new stand on the Arab-Israeli conflict, which has been poorly received in European capitals. Foreign ministers of the European Union, meeting in Ireland Friday, tried to react calmly to the American move. Without directly challenging Mr. Bush's decision this week to support Israel's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and portions of the West Bank, Mr. Blair signaled that he now wanted the emphasis to shift to helping the Palestinians achieve the promise of an independent, viable state.

Mr. Blair, who for several years has made clear behind the scenes that he thinks the Bush administration does not appear even-handed to Arab nations, said he would call for a meeting of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States to consider granting new aid to the Palestinians. The Palestinians need the help, he said, to meet the challenge of providing security and economic stability and establishing the ability to govern themselves effectively as Israel withdraws.

"If there is disengagement by Israel from the Gaza and from parts of the West Bank," Mr. Blair said, "that gives us the opportunity to help the Palestinian Authority with the economic, the political and the security measures they take and they need to take in order to get to the point where the concept of a viable Palestinian state becomes a real possibility."

The White House signaled, though, that it would look skeptically at any additional aid that would flow through the hands of Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, who remains in effective control of the Palestinian Authority in the absence of a strong prime minister.

Mr. Bush has refused to deal with Mr. Arafat. On Friday, he said pointedly that the establishment of a Palestinian state would "require a commitment by the Palestinian people to find leadership that is committed to peace and hope."

Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, called Mr. Arafat "part of the problem" and said he had "undermined efforts every step of the way." Another administration official said the United States would encourage the European Union and Arab nations, among others, to increase their contributions if the money was funneled through the United Nations to the Palestinian finance ministry, where it could be kept out of Mr. Arafat's hands.

They said the United States already provided more aid to the Palestinians through the United Nations than any other nation, and was unlikely to increase its contributions at this point.

Mr. Blair said settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was part of a broader effort to root out the causes of terrorism in Arab and Muslim nations and trying to stabilize Iraq.

The president left it to Mr. Blair to set out in more detail how they intend to make progress in Iraq.

Mr. Blair outlined a series of actions, including a stepped up effort for recruiting and training Iraqi police and security personnel, a commitment to making good on plans for reconstruction and a critical role for the United Nations.

The emphasis on the role of the United Nations was one point that Mr. Blair had pressed Mr. Bush on for more than a year, with little success. But American credibility in Iraq has been ebbing and few other options seem to be available as the June 30 deadline approaches. As such, Mr. Bush continued to signal a willingness to give up direct control by the United States over the establishment of a caretaker Iraqi government that would embody the country's sovereignty until elections for a permanent government are held.

Asked about the specific shape of the caretaker government being developed by the United Nations envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, in consultation with Iraqis and the United States, Mr. Bush replied, "That's going to be decided by Mr. Brahimi."

Britain and the United States are expected to begin circulating a draft of a new United Nations resolution next month. Diplomats at the United Nations said it was expected to authorize a multinational military force in Iraq. It will also outline the role of the world body after the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq.


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Last modified 2005-01-06 07:20 AM

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