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Background: Tony Blair’s Predicament with Iraq

February 19, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: It’s been a bad week for the British prime minister. On Saturday, about a million Britons joined what organizers called the largest British protest ever.

DEMONSTRATORS: Peace, not war! Peace, not war!

GWEN IFILL: They shouted against war, taking special aim at Tony Blair for his staunch support of the Bush administration.

WOMAN ON STREET: If Blair goes ahead now he is in deep trouble. We are talking civil disobedience for sure.

BIANCA JAGGER, Human Rights Campaigner: It is not in our name that this war will be fought. We are here to urge Prime Minister Blair to listen to our voices. We oppose the war.

GWEN IFILL: The protests came on the heels of a day of stiff United Nations Security Council resistance to war, where Britain and Spain sided with U.S. demands for action, but they failed to sway France, Russia, and Germany.

JOSCHKA FISCHER, Foreign Minister, Germany: Military action against Iraq would, in addition to the terrible humanitarian consequences, above all, endanger the stability of a tense and troubled region.

GWEN IFILL: At home, Blair’s popularity is plummeting. One poll put his domestic approval rating at 35 percent, the worst in two years. A separate tally found 52 percent of the British public opposed to war; 29 percent in favor. Much of the criticism arises from Blair’s ties to Pres. Bush. Editorial cartoonists deride the prime minister as the U.S. President’s poodle. Even some members of his own party, the left-of-center Labor Party, are criticizing Blair. On Saturday the day of the protest Blair told party members that opposing Saddam Hussein is a moral cause:

TONY BLAIR: I do not seek unpopularity as a badge of honor, but sometimes it is the price of leadership and it is the cost of conviction. And as you watch your TV pictures of the march, just ponder this: If there are 500,000 on that march, that is still less than the number of people whose deaths Saddam Hussein has been responsible for. (Gunfire)

GWEN IFILL: The Blair government has sent 40,000 troops, so far, to the Persian Gulf, joining 160,000 American soldiers there. But Blair is counting on diplomatic compromise, a second U.N. resolution, before the use of force can become more than a threat. Last month, during a trip to the White House, Blair said he would push the U.S. to support such a resolution. U.S. officials, who had insisted they had all the U.N. authorization they needed, now say they would support a second, carefully drawn U.N. Statement. Blair embraced that approach yesterday.

TONY BLAIR: I want a second resolution if we go to military action, and I still think there’s a lot of debate to go on before we get to the point of decision there in the United Nations. Look at the merits of the issue. Is Saddam a threat? Yes. Is the issue to do with weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism? Heavens above, with what we see happening in this country today, are these things a threat to us? Yes. Do we have to deal with them? Of course, we’ve got to deal with them. And is the regime of Saddam one of the most murderous and brutal the world now, where literally thousands of people die every year as a result of him being in power? The answer to that is yes as well.

GWEN IFILL: Today at the U.N., Britain’s ambassador said the Blair government would introduce the new Iraq resolution in the fairly near future.