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Blair: Dissent with U.S. private

Blair wants disagreements kept secret, his Tory opponent says.
Tony Blair
Great Britain
United States

LONDON, England -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has told Cabinet colleagues that any open disagreement with the U.S. over Iraq risked damaging troops' morale.

The Blair government has repeatedly denied that London and Washington differ on Iraq policy. But Blair's main political opponent said the prime minister often voiced disquiet in private and urged him to bring the debate into the open.

Blair's message, delivered to a Cabinet meeting on Thursday, was echoed by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon.

It followed calls from members of the ruling Labour Party for Blair to distance himself from U.S. President George W. Bush.

Blair, Straw and Hoon "underlined the negative impact they thought any show of disagreement with the U.S. would have on morale," Blair's spokesman said of the cabinet meeting.

London and Washington shared common goals in Iraq, the spokesman said. The question was how to achieve those goals.

"Is it by discussing how you work towards that goal in public, using megaphone diplomacy, or is it to discuss the way forward together and work out a common strategy?" he asked.

"We believe it's better to work out a common strategy, not least because of the impact any disagreement or apparent disagreement would have on the troops who are working side-by-side on the ground," the spokesman added.

'Private grievances'

In a newspaper article Thursday Opposition Conservative party leader Michael Howard complained of a "serious lack of candor" about Blair's discussions with President Bush.

"He seems to take the view that any advice he offers on U.S. policy must be made in private and any disagreement kept secret," wrote the Tory leader in The Independent.

"The partnership between the United Kingdom and the United States should always be a candid one," he added.

Blair's public trust ratings have plummeted in the wake of the Iraq war and the revelations of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops have further eroded public support for the U.S.-led occupation in Britain.

Labour MPs have also criticized what they say is heavy-handed U.S. military tactics on the ground.

Britain's former envoy to Iraq, Jeremy Greenstock, suggested on Thursday that UK officials did air grievances over Iraq policy with America, but preferred to do so in private.

"We do not have our arguments in public with the United States because a lot of detail is confidential," Greenstock told BBC radio.

"There is a lot of defense and intelligence work involved in this. And we go through it all in immense detail. But we do make our views known."

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