by RAY FLEMING

THE early editions of yesterday's Times newspaper had this front-page headline: “Britain and US to call Europe's bluff over UN war vote”. Later editions, however, had a different story to tell: “Britain devises way out of UN vote deadlock”. The first reflected Tony Blair's confidence that the UK/US/Spanish “second resolution” would get a majority in the Security Council next week despite the threat from France, Germany and Russia to block it. The second reflected Britain's sudden recognition late on Wednesday evening that the resolution had no chance unless it was amended to allow Iraq more time to disarm before the use of military force is invoked Whatever the outcome of this change of tactics, it is clear that Tony Blair has finally realised that he has painted himself into a corner. At the time of writing, there has been no response from Washington (or Madrid) to his new initiative. However, given the extremely hard line taken by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his televised speech on Wednesday evening it is unlikely that the United States could agree to any delay beyond a few meaningless days. Mr Powell said, over and over again, that Saddam Hussein had failed to make a “strategic commitment” to disarmament and that the time had come to stop pretending otherwise.

Matters are moving very quickly and can change again overnight but there now seems a real possibility that Tony Blair may suddenly find that he has lost the confidence both of Europe and of the United States.

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