London Saddam Hussein poses a grave threat to the world and must be stopped, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday, bucking the tide of public sentiment and trying to rally international support for U.S.-led action against Iraq.
Russia, however, insisted it would veto any measure for military action against Baghdad that is put before the U.N. Security Council. It urged Saddam to readmit U.N. weapons inspectors to avert the threat of war.
Iraqi officials said Tuesday they're ready to discuss the return of inspectors, but only in the context of ending sanctions and restoring Iraqi sovereignty over all its territory, in defiance of U.N. demands that any return of inspectors be "unconditional."
Blair signaled his strong support for Washington's stance on Iraq, and risked mounting criticism from the British public and his governing Labor Party.
The Bush administration has said it wants to overthrow Saddam but hasn't decided what action to take.
"This is not just an issue for the U.S. It is an issue for Britain and the wider world. America should not have to face this issue alone," Blair said during a news conference in England.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday that the Bush administration has secret information that Saddam is close to developing nuclear weapons.
Rumsfeld hinted at a Pentagon news conference that Bush could disclose the information through upcoming congressional hearings on Iraq.
Britain is seen as the United States' strongest ally if there is a war against Iraq. In recent days there has been increasing international pressure on Washington not to act against Saddam without U.N. approval.
Other European leaders, including French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, have urged the United States to exercise restraint.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Monday that Moscow would not support an attack on Baghdad.
"We hope that this question will not be placed to the Security Council, thereby necessitating the veto of Russia," he said, after meeting his Iraqi counterpart, Naji Sabri, in Moscow.
Blair said broad international support was important, but warned that there may still be action without it.
The prime minister has barely spoken in public about Iraq in recent weeks, and Tuesday's news conference followed pressure from the media and lawmakers for him to detail his position.
About 160 members of Parliament many members of the Labor Party have signed a motion cautioning against military action.
British public concern about participating in a U.S. offensive appears to be growing. An ICM poll published this week suggested 71 percent of voters oppose Britain joining a war against Iraq that lacks U.N. approval.
Blair argued Tuesday that concerns were rooted in an unfounded fear that Britain and the United States would act hastily, and he insisted any action would comply with international law.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan met Tuesday with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, urging him to comply with Security Council resolutions, which call for the unconditional return of inspectors.
But Aziz said their return depended on the lifting of sanctions, restoring Iraqi sovereignty in the north and south of the country, and ending U.S. threats.