Prime Minister Tony Blair firmly denied Wednesday that the Bush administration signaled just months after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that a decision had been made to invade Iraq, saying he was "astonished" by claims that leaked secret memos suggested the United States was rushing to war.

After Sept. 11, it was necessary to "draw a line in the sand here, and the country to do it with was Iraq because they were in breach of U.N. resolutions going back over many years," Blair said in an interview with the Associated Press. "People say the decision was already taken. The decision was not already taken."

Blair said he was "a bit astonished" at the intensive U.S. media coverage about the memos, which included minutes of a July 23, 2002, meeting between Blair and top officials at his Downing Street office.

According to the July 23 memo, Richard Dearlove, then head of the British MI6 intelligence service who had just returned from meetings with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George J. Tenet, reported "a perceptible shift in attitude" in Washington.

"Military action was now seen as inevitable," the memo said, adding that President Bush's National Security Council "had no patience with the U.N. route." Dearlove also observed that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

In the interview, Blair said raising such concerns was a natural part of any examination of the cause for war. "The trouble with having a political discussion on the basis of things that are leaked is that they are always taken right out of context," he said.

Blair suggested that ensuring victory in Iraq was now more important than debating the case for invasion, which began in March 2003.

"The most important thing we can do in Iraq is concentrate on the fact . . . that what is happening there is a monumental battle that affects our own security," he said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the U.S. decision to go to war in Iraq "was not already taken" in mid-2002.