Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Putin Snubs Blair

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Putin Snubs Blair

Article excerpt

Byline: JOE MURPHY

TONY BLAIR was rebuffed by Vladimir Putin of Russia today as opposition grew at home and abroad to a war against Iraq.

The Prime Minister telephoned the president in an attempt to persuade him to back George Bush's threat of military attacks.

To Downing Street's horror, Mr Putin not only lectured the British leader - telling him military force would be unlawful - he also issued a press statement describing the conversation.

In another setback, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had a letter expressing concern hand-delivered to Mr Blair by the Saudi ambassador.

The snubs came as Mr Blair and President Bush began trying to assemble a coalition against Iraq's President Saddam Hussein despite a backdrop of mounting unrest. In Britain, a survey of Labour MPs showed almost zero backing for military attacks on the regime.

In the US, former president Bill Clinton led a growing chorus of demands to postpone action until Osama bin Laden, thought to be behind the 11 September attacks, is caught.

The talks with Mr Putin - who has just signed contracts worth $50 billion with Iraq - came as a blow because Russia has the power to veto any UN resolution sought against Iraq. Kremlin spokesman Alexei Gromov quoted Mr Putin as calling for a political solution to the crisis and saying there was "real potential" for peace talks.

Using force could breach international law and destabilise the Middle East, he said.

His warning was hammered home by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov: "We believe diplomatic steps might allow us to find a long-term settlement."

Downing Street would only comment-in response: "They agreed to meet next month in Moscow."

Mr Blair, who flies to Camp David tomorrow for a war summit with President Bush, also came under pressure at home. Robin Cook, the leading "dove" in the Cabinet, pressed for a Commons vote on the issue. No 10 has so far refused to promise a vote and has rejected calls for an imminent recall of Parliament to debate the crisis.

Mr Cook said that before the 1990 Gulf War, Labour and the Conservatives agreed to hold a vote. …

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