British Politician Meets With Saddam; ''War Can Be Avoided''

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

London ( - A senior member of Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor Party returned this week from a rare face-to-face meeting with Saddam Hussein, and he says he thinks war can be avoided.

Tony Benn, a former member of Parliament and a long-time anti-war crusader, met and interviewed the Iraqi dictator for two hours on Sunday in Baghdad.

An hour of the meeting was taped by the Arab Television Network and reports Tuesday said British broadcasters were bidding for the rights to show the film despite Benn's insistence that the interview be run unedited and in its entirety.

The interview is thought to be the first Saddam has given to a westerner in more than a decade.

Benn didn't divulge many details about the meeting, but he did say that he asked Saddam if Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or links to al Qaeda. The former cabinet minister did not say what Saddam's responses were.

Benn offered to meet with Blair to discuss the meeting and said the prime minister holds a "virtual veto" over military action.

"I do believe that it is possible to halt the march to war," he said upon his return to London on Monday.

"Mr. Bush cannot go to war alone, because American opinion would not let him go to war alone because they remember the Vietnam War," he told reporters.

"Therefore, and it is almost unique, the British prime minister has an effective veto on the war," he said. "If he says to Bush 'I'm sorry, I can't go along with you,' Bush would find it very difficult to go."

Benn made a similar visit to Baghdad before the 1991 Gulf War to plead with Saddam to release Britons being held as human shields in Iraq.

Benn said he paid his own way to Baghdad, unlike a group of 34 European parliamentarians who also traveled to the Iraqi capital this week.

The European Parliament was scheduled to decide this week whether to send an official delegation to meet with Saddam, but the MEPs from 11 different countries jumped the gun and went to Iraq on their own prerogative and met with senior officials of the Iraqi regime.

The politicians went to Iraq despite a recent request by the U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix. Blix asked that no delegation travel to the country until inspectors had finished their work.

EU parliamentarians can claim up to $2,950 in special funds for visits to non-EU countries, even if they lack official permission.

European Parliament President Pat Cox told the Irish Independent newspaper that he feared the group would be used as a propaganda tool by Saddam's regime.

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