The United States takes Tony Blair's support for granted if it takes military action against Iraq, a retired senior US general said yesterday.
General Wesley Clark, the former Nato Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said: "The support of Britain is assumed. I think it would be shocking if Britain did not go along with the United States, whatever President Bush's decision might be."
His comments will alarm Labour MPs, many of whom strongly oppose military action against Saddam Hussein, and will even worry some Blair aides, who are increasingly concerned that the Prime Minister is out of step with the British public in his firm backing for Washington.
When he returns from his holiday in France, Mr Blair is expected to make the case for intervention in Iraq in an attempt to turn round opinion in his party and in the country.
General Clark told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that hostility in Britain to action against Iraq "does make the press" in America.
"But Tony Blair's behaviour since 11 September has left Americans automatically assuming he will back any decision taken by US President George Bush," he said. "I think it hasn't really penetrated popular understanding in the United States that there is some possibility that the UK wouldn't be there with us."
General Clark put the chances of a US-led military strike against Iraq next year at between 65 and 70 per cent. "It is likely, it is probable. It is not 100 per cent absolute," he said.
He said Mr Bush's talk of "an axis of evil" and calls for regime change in Iraq had left him little room for manoeuvre if an international consensus was not built. General Clark argued that relying on international law and the full diplomatic weight of the international community was preferable to war.
He claimed that even the "hawks" in the US government acknowledged privately that President Saddam was no threat to America. "There are some in the administration who have always felt that military power should be used to eliminate Saddam Hussein," he said. "Those who favour this attack now will tell you candidly, and privately, that it is probably true that Saddam Hussein is no threat to the United States. But they are afraid at some point he might decide, if he had a nuclear weapon, to use it against Israel."
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