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Blair Steady in Support

"It's time to bring up the vote, Ricardo. We've had this debate too long."

"But we're making progress," Lagos replied.

Bush jokes with Blair in February 2001. During talks on Iraq, Bush said he did not want to see Blair's government go down. (Doug Mills -- AP)

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"That's only because we've got a couple of hundred thousand troops. If those troops weren't there, there'd be even less progress diplomatically. And Saddam Hussein could care less. Any progress you think is being made is illusionary." Bush then stated his predicament clearly. "And I'm not going to leave our troops there. They're either going to go in, and remove him, or they're coming home, Ricardo."

This was a sobering thought. For both practical and political reasons, bringing the troops home without solving the Hussein problem was unthinkable for Bush. It was similar to the position his father had found himself in during January 1991 with 500,000 military men and women in the Middle East. "We have to have a war," President George H.W. Bush had told his advisers several weeks before launching the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Once again a President Bush, this time with more than 200,000 troops in the Middle East, had put himself into the position where he had to have a war.

Bush asked Lagos, "Ricardo, what's your vote?"

No, the Chilean president replied.

"Thank you very much," Bush said.

Bush called Blair and described his talks with Fox and Lagos. "You have to consider these two conversations," Bush said. "This is not positive news. It's over."

An End to Diplomatic Planning

The next day Bush told his advisers he wanted to have a summit with Blair to show solidarity. In part it was to fill the void. War was certain, but the diplomatic circus hadn't ended. What could he do? He did not want to just sit around. But Blair's people were concerned about the prime minister leaving the country for even eight hours because of the Margaret Thatcher precedent: In 1990, she went abroad to a conference and was ousted as party leader when she returned. Blair didn't want Bush to give a speech or issue an ultimatum. He, Blair, had to pick the right moment to call for a parliamentary vote. It was Thursday, and any speech from Bush had to wait until at least Monday.

Whatever would serve the British, Bush decided. And on Friday there was another concession to Blair -- an announcement in the Rose Garden of a "road map" for peace in the Middle East that Blair thought should not be delayed until after the Iraq issue was resolved.

The White House proposed a meeting on Bermuda. But that was too far for Blair and too close to the United States. Another White House proposal was for Bush to go to London. Blair's aides balked -- the American president in London at that time would have been a provocation for massive protests. They finally settled on the Azores, a group of Portuguese islands in the North Atlantic closer to London than to Washington.

The summit's purpose, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said, was "to review this diplomacy as it's brought to its conclusion." It began on Sunday, March 16, and included Bush, Blair, Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar and Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barraso -- all supporters of a war.

In a closed-door session, Bush told the others that he was going to give a speech giving an ultimatum to Hussein to get out of Iraq with his sons within 48 hours. "That's what I'm going to do, okay?" Bush said. He wasn't consulting. He was informing. "So everybody knows," he added.

They turned to the possibility that France, Russia or some other Security Council member would introduce a counter-resolution to delay "serious consequences" and force a vote. That could be a real problem. All they could do, they agreed, was get on the phone and head off the undecideds, get their commitment to oppose a counter-resolution and vote no if necessary.

Blair stiffened. "If another country tried to introduce a new resolution for the sole purpose of delaying us," the prime minister said, "we'd have to regard that as a hostile act diplomatically."

This brought them back to the French, the guiding force of delay. "I'd be glad to veto something of theirs," Bush said. "Really glad!"

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