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Blair: Saddam most dangerous leader

Blair: U.S. and UK share values  

LONDON, England -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has denounced Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as one of the world's most dangerous rulers.

Ahead of his first meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, Blair defended both countries' airstrikes on Baghdad on Friday.

Blair's North American visit begins on Wednesday in the Canadian capital, Ottawa, after which he will travel to Washington where he will meet Vice President Dick Cheney.

He will then hold talks with Bush at Camp David, Maryland, before returning to London on Saturday.

UK-U.S. bonding isolates allies

Keen to emphasise the common ground between the two leaders, the UK leader defended the U.S.-British air strikes on targets south of Baghdad last week as "absolutely essential."

"He's an extremely dangerous man, probably the most dangerous ruler at the present time anywhere in the world ... (and) the policy of containment must stay in place, Blair said.

The Iraqi president had killed thousands of his own people, launched a war that cost the lives of a million people and was trying to develop weapons of mass destruction, he said.

"If that doesn't make him dangerous I don't know what does, Blair said.

The British prime minister, who enjoyed a close relationship with President Bill Clinton, will be the first European leader to meet Bush since his inauguration.

It is expected that defence and trade will top the agenda.

The joint air strikes against Iraq angered some EU members -- most notably France -- who are also sometimes at loggerheads with the U.S. on trade issues.

But Blair is keen to promote the UK as a bridge between the two.

Earlier this month he said the UK and U.S. shared "bonds of kinship and history and a bond of a shared language, but most of all ... shared values."

Blair's official spokesman said on Tuesday: "The prime minister has always seen the notion that we have to choose between the United States and Europe as a false choice, and also a foolish choice."

But some European countries fear Bush's plans for a ballistic missile defence shield -- dubbed "Son of Star Wars" -- may trigger a new arms race.

Blair's government has been cautious about the plan, but says it understands Washington's concerns.

"It is a very sensitive issue," Blair told Forbes magazine in an interview posted on its Web site last week.

"My own judgment is that provided we handle it with care, there is a way through which meets America's objectives and other people's concerns."

Blair's spokesman said the Camp David meeting was unlikely to produce a more concrete response, because U.S. plans had yet to be formalised.

He also played down British fears that the shield would involve basing U.S. missiles in Britain. "No proposal that has been put forward involves U.S. missiles on British soil," he said.

Britain has suggested that Bush should meet the 15 European leaders in June at a U.S.-European Union summit.

"We have proposed ... that rather than have the usual format, which is basically (EU) presidency plus commission, that it be used for President Bush to meet all the European leaders, and that is something we hope will happen," said Blair's spokesman.

A European Union summit of all 15 EU leaders is set for Gothenburg, Sweden, on June 15-16.

While no date has been set for the EU-U.S. summit, a Swedish presidency source said that one option the Swedes were looking at was a dinner for Bush and all 15 EU leaders just before the Gothenburg summit.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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