Blair backs US over need to tackle Iraq weapons

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Tony Blair held a telephone conversation with President George Bush yesterday on the need to tackle Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

The Prime Minister told the weekly meeting of his Cabinet yesterday he supported American determination to act over Iraq but insisted no decisions had been reached yet.

The Bush administration is said to be considering a range of options, from the deployment of up to 200,000 ground troops, to covert action aimed at securing the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein.

Labour MPs believe Mr Blair will endorse military action against President Saddam's regime, even though many of them would be against it. Mr Blair's hawkish line will be criticised in the Commons next Wednesday in a debate on Iraq staged by Tam Dalyell. He said yesterday the Prime Minister should drop his "warlike belligerence. Baghdad wants to talk; you cannot have a just war until you do everything to avoid a war," he said.

Downing Street said dealing with the weapons threat was the "logical" next step. It added: "The central issue is that weapons of mass destruction continue to be produced [in Iraq] and that we believe there is a serious threat."

Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, who held talks at Downing Street on Monday, is to meet Naji Sabri, Iraq's Foreign Minister, next week in an effort to persuade Iraq to accept UN weapons inspectors, who have been barred since 1998.