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Tony Blair Meets With Bush to Discuss Plans for Post-War Iraq

Aired March 28, 2003 - 02:53   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we're going to check in right now with our Chris Burns, who is live in Washington. Chris, what's the latest where you are?
CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the meeting between Tony Blair, the British prime minister, and President Bush in the past day, very, very important for the two leaders, the first time they met together, the two key allies in this war effort, met together since the war began. And they had to show -- very important for them to show that they stand shoulder to shoulder, especially since the latest setbacks on the battlefield, the two leaders expressing their confidence that things are moving along well, President Bush saying that there's steady progress, that they are advancing day by day, that the "terror grip," in his words, of the -- Saddam's regime is being loosened, Tony Blair saying that in less than a week they have moved to within 50 miles of Baghdad and that the oil fields in the south are now secure among the advances, despite those setbacks on the ground.

However, they remained vague about exactly how long it will take, only that they will take as long as it takes to topple Saddam Hussein. Equally vague have they been about what kind of government will follow Saddam Hussein. This is Operation Iraqi Freedom, but what will that freedom look like? They're being vague about it for a number of reasons. One, Tony Blair is pushing for more of a U.N. involvement, in part to expand international involvement in a post-Saddam Iraq to avoid making it look like a U.S.-British occupation force. On the other hand, the U.S. and British would like to maintain some kind of control as they shift from a military rule to civilian rule, some kind of interim government, a la Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, for example.

So a very, very delicate balance that the two are still talking about, the two still remaining vague in their statements.


TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It's important there again that the U.N. is involved and that any post-conflict administration in Iraq is endorsed by it. But there are huge numbers of details to be discussed with our allies as to exactly how that is going to work. And also, the conflict is not yet over. We're still in the conflict. So we will carry on discussing that with the United Nations, with other allies. But I think that is best done in those discussions without trying to do it by discussion through the press conference or through megaphone diplomacy.

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iraq's greatest long-term need is a representative government that protects the rights of all Iraqis. The form of this government will be chosen by the Iraqi people, not imposed by outsiders. The prime minister and I are confident that a free Iraq will be a successful nation.


BURNS: What does look clear, however, is that the oil-for-food program could be starting up rather soon. The two leaders did talk about that. This is the program in which Iraqi oil is sold to raise money for humanitarian aid. So far, that's been blocked, and the U.S. and British have been shipping in their own aid, humanitarian aid, to the Iraqis in the interim. The U.N. Security Council is expected to vote on a new resolution that would -- at least, some kind of decision that would allow this to resume under the aegis of Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary general. Also on Friday, President Bush is expected to meet in the Rose Garden today -- today with veterans, trying to tap them for some more support in this war effort -- Anderson.

COOPER: Chris, on the oil-for-food program, Bush and Blair are basically in agreement that, though they want it to begin again, they want it to be kind of different. They don't want the money -- obviously, now, the oil-for-food program, according to U.S. officials and British officials, the money goes to -- to Saddam's regime. They want the U.N. to make some sort of change in that, is that correct?

BURNS: Exactly. And that's why they want to give the authority over to Kofi Annan to run that in the place of the Iraqis taking the money and using it to spend on that because, obviously, with this war going on, that is not possible. It's been a very delicate issue because there has been opposition, the Russians and the French, for instance, saying that if this food program goes ahead and pays for humanitarian aid to those who are suffering from the war, that would, in effect, be showing some kind of vote of support in this war effort. So a very, very delicate issue that -- but it does appear that the U.N. Security Council has gotten past that, the Germans saying that they do expect a vote on Friday.

COOPER: And Chris, a number of Iraqi opposition groups who are meeting in northern Iraq, in Kurdish-controlled territory, were saying they want to form an interim government, a provisional government, if you will. That is of concern to U.S. officials, is it not?

BURNS: Well, it's an extremely delicate can of worms because you've got exiles who would like to put together a government. That, however, could irritate Iraqis inside Iraq themselves. So there is a very, very delicate balance that the Bush administration and the Blair administration would like to strike, and that is apparently why they are trying to remain vague as this sort of thing gets worked out. They also, according to -- a senior administration official says that they don't want to set anything in stone until they see what they've got left at the end of this war -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Chris Burns in Washington, thanks -- Carol.



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