Blair to use summit to lobby for war on Iraq

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Tony Blair plans to use the margins of the Johannesburg earth summit to rally support for US President George Bush's increasingly unpopular war on terrorism. As dissent grows over Mr Blair's backing for a US-led attack on Iraq, the Prime Minister is determined to shore up allies.

But even within the US, there are increasing doubts. Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state and foreign policy guru, and Brent Scowcroft, President George Bush senior's former national security adviser, have both expressed their disquiet.

On Friday the President said he was aware "some very intelligent people" were expressing opinions, and that he was listening to the debate. But he added: "I'll be making up my mind based upon the latest intelligence, and how best to protect our own country plus our friends and allies."

It is not yet decided whom the Prime Minister will meet in South Africa, but sources said he was sure to speak to as many leaders as possible, and Iraq would be on the agenda.

The summit will follow a diplomatic drive by Mr Blair that has already seen him break his holiday to hold informal talks with his French counterpart, Jean-Pierre Raffarin. He also plans to meet King Faud of Saudi Arabia to try to reassure him about the stance of the US and Britain towards Iraq.

Mr Blair is also under pressure at home. Robin Cook, the Leader of the House, has been asked by Labour backbench dissidents to be a voice against the war in Cabinet. And the anti-war movement in and out of Parliament is gathering momentum.

The Prime Minister has also been criticised by the Tories for failing to condemn the decision of African nations to nominate Libya to chair the UNHCR.

In a letter to Clare Short, the International Development Secretary, her opposite number, Caroline Spelman, called for reform of the human rights commission and for the UK to "show leadership in preventing the UN Human Rights Commission falling into the hands of serious human rights abusers". Ms Spelman said that progress on human rights should not be sacrificed in the name of better relations with Colonel Gadaffi.

Human Rights Watch has also condemned the decision, claiming it was a "real setback" to put a country with a poor human rights record in charge of the commission.

But the Foreign Office said last night: "Regardless of nationality the role of the chair is specific. The UK is committed to protecting human rights worldwide.''

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