Blair is US Foreign Minister

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Prime Minister Tony Blair and South African President Thabo Mbeki are meeting after Iraq crisis talks in the US.
Mr Blair and President George W Bush stood united in their pledge to disarm President Saddam Hussein "in a matter of weeks not months" at their White House summit.

The prime minister is continuing his diplomatic offensive over action against Iraq in his meeting with Mr Mbeki at his country residence.

And next week he will try to convince a reluctant French President Jacques Chirac to back the British and US position.

Mr Mbeki is due to fly to Ethiopia later

Mr Blair told the BBC on Saturday the United Nations would sanction war with Iraq within weeks if President Saddam Hussein did not disarm.

Mr Bush has said the crisis would "come to a head in a matter of weeks, not months" saying the US-led coalition could move against Iraq without a second United Nations resolution.

But the UK prime minister is not expected to get the support for he is looking for from Mr Mbeki.

US foreign minister

Ahead of the meeting, Mr Blair told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he did not believe Mr Bush would disregard the UN.

"What he is anxious to ensure, and what I am anxious to ensure, is that the whole debate about a second resolution doesn't just become a means of putting this thing off for months and months and months".

He insisted that "even now" Saddam Hussein could avoid war by co-operating fully with the weapons inspectors.

But he said: "It is really a question of whether people believe Saddam is likely to comply or not.

"Personally I think it is frankly obvious he is not."

On Friday in a joint press conference with Mr Bush, Mr Blair warned that if Iraq did not disarm through the UN route they would have to be "disarmed by force."

Anti-war

In contrast South Africa's ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) is adopting an anti-war stance.

It has signed up to a Stop The War campaign saying war would be a disaster - escalating the price of oil and condemning the African continent to a deep economic crisis.

This is a great opportunity for the government to show it can be strong on Zimbabwe

Michael Ancram
Shadow foreign secretary

The South African leader's predecessor, Nelson Mandela has accused the prime minister of arrogance and short-sightedness.

He said Mr Blair was "no longer prime minister of Britain" but instead "the foreign minister of the United States".

Mr Blair has been urged to use the visit to persuade Mr Mbeki to speak out against Robert Mugabe's brutal regime in Zimbabwe.

Critics in Zimbabwe have argued South Africa's policy of "quiet diplomacy" amounts to an endorsement of his regime.

Grim situation

Shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram said Mr Blair must use the meeting to persuade Mr Mbeki to "stand up" to the Zimbabwean dictator.

"This is a great opportunity for the government to show it can be strong on Zimbabwe," he said.

The unpredictable diplomatic game goes on

Click here for analysis on Blair's trip

Mr Blair and Mr Mbeki are expected to agree more fully over African development.

Mr Mbeki will later fly to Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa for a meeting of the African Union.

Mr Blair's spokesman said: "Clearly, we have expressed our concerns about Zimbabwe for some considerable time and in terms of the Commonwealth suspension, that was a decision taken by the troika of Nigeria, Australia and South Africa.

"I don't think anyone is under any illusion that the situation is grim and deteriorating.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/2715411.stm

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