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Iraq: Bush, Blair To Discuss Defense, Security Issues

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is scheduled to meet U.S. President George W. Bush at the Camp David presidential retreat outside Washington today. U.S. officials say the two leaders will discuss a wide range of issues, including how to contain Iraq and U.S. plans to develop a missile shield, which is opposed by Russia, China, and some European allies. Our Washington correspondent, Frank T. Csongos, previews the meeting.

Washington, 23 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush is set to confer today (23 February) with visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair about such issues as containing Iraq and U.S. plans for a national missile defense system.

The meeting at the Camp David presidential retreat outside Washington comes in the wake of allied air strikes against Iraqi military targets. The latest air strikes came yesterday (22 February) when U.S. warplanes hit Iraqi air defenses in the northern no-fly zone.

The U.S. European Command said the action was in response to Iraqi anti-aircraft fire and radar that targeted U.S. planes near Mosul. It said all the jets returned safely to their base in Turkey.

U.S. defense officials also said the results of last Friday's joint U.S. and British air attacks near Baghdad -- the first such strikes in more than two years -- were mediocre at best.

The officials said far fewer than half of the targeted radars were damaged. They said early assessments indicate a new satellite-guided missile fired by Navy planes was mainly to blame.

At his first formal White House news conference 22 February, Bush indicated he was satisfied with Friday's military action, saying it delivered a message to Baghdad. Bush also said he will review the current military and economic sanctions imposed on Iraq, acknowledging that they are ineffective.

Bush said the best sanctions are the ones supported by all members of the coalition that went to war against the forces of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein a decade ago to drive him out of Kuwait. He noted that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will be visiting the Middle East this weekend and next week and will review the sanctions with the other coalition members.

"The secretary of state is going to go listen to our allies as to how best to affect a policy, the primary goal of which will be to say to Saddam Hussein, 'We won't tolerate you developing weapons of mass destruction and we expect you to leave your neighbors alone.'"

U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice further commented on U.S. policy objectives toward Iraq. Rice said the U.S. and its allies must make certain that Saddam Hussein does not build weapons of mass destruction, does not threaten his neighbors and that he lives up to the obligations.

During a visit to Canada yesterday (22 February), Blair defended his decision to join in the U.S.-led air strikes against Iraq. He said they were needed to prevent Saddam Hussein from re-emerging as a threat to world peace.

At the news conference, Bush also said he is encouraged that Russia has shown interest in the idea of a missile defense system aimed at potential threats from rogue states.

Bush said we would talk about the subject at a yet unscheduled meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I was pleased to see comments from [the] Russian leadership that talked about missile defense. Their words indicate that they recognize that there are new threats in the post-Cold War era, threats that require theater-based anti-ballistic missile systems. I felt those words were encouraging. When I meet with Mr. Putin I'm going to talk to him about exactly what he meant by those words. We have no meeting set up yet, I might add."

Earlier this week, Russian officials presented NATO with a broad outline for a joint European anti-missile system.

Russian experts are expected to visit NATO to explain in more detail what Moscow has in mind concerning a low-cost, mobile European system for countering the threat of ballistic missile attack.

Bush has said the United States will move forward with plans for a national missile defense system. The proposed U.S. system has been opposed by Russia, China, and some European nations.