Blair will discuss detail of strikes on Iraq with Bush

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The Independent US

The British Government's backing for US military action against Iraq has hardened, with Tony Blair and George Bush planning to meet in April to finalise details of the campaign.

The Washington summit is the latest sign that the Prime Minister would actively back an American attack on Iraq despite growing opposition to war from leading European allies, some of his own ministers and backbench MPs.

It is also a U-turn by the Government. Soon after 11 September, senior ministers stressed that there was no evidence of Baghdad's involvement and said that Britain would not back the extension of the "war against terror" to Iraq.

The Government's position now, however, is that even without any links to 11 September, Iraq poses a threat because President Saddam Hussein's regime is still believed to be developing weapons of mass destruction.

A Number 10 official was reported as saying this weekend "The meeting [in Washington] will be to finalise Phase Two of the war against terrorism. Action against Iraq will be at the top of the agenda."

A Downing Street spokesman said:" We have always made clear that we share the United States' determination to continue the war against terrorism. We share their concerns about Baghdad's support for terrorism and its development of weapons of mass destruction."

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, said that Saddam's regime could only be removed by outside intervention. However, any such intervention by the US may be delayed by shortage of ammunition, the weather and the need to gather allies and use their bases.

Amid speculation that a new crisis would be engineered over UN weapons inspections, a senior US official told Newsweek that America will demand "total, unfettered, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year" inspection rights – a demand certain to be rejected by the Iraqi President.