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UK's Brown pledges Iraq policy stability

Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged Tuesday to keep Britain's Iraq policy in line with that of the United States, seeking to allay fears the country's move out of the southern city of Basra marked the start of a major withdrawal.

Brown told a news conference a decision on a potential future British troop cut would be taken only in consultation with the United States and other allies.

Some U.S. officials have criticized Britain's decision to leave Iraq's second largest city, raising worries about the security of supply routes to Baghdad and London's long-term commitment to the war.

"We are on exactly the same path that I have set out, which is that we will continue to discharge our obligations to the Iraqi people, that we support their democracy," Brown told reporters at his Downing Street office, when asked if he remained in step with President Bush.

Bush told reporters Monday night that if security in Iraq continues to improve, the United States may be able to carry out its duties with fewer troops.

But Brown refused to say whether Britain will cut its 5,500 troops when it hands security responsibilities for Basra to Iraqi forces in the autumn — the remaining province over which Britain has responsibility.

"We will have to make a further decision when the time is right," Brown said. "That will be a decision that will be made in concert with our allies and of course in concert with the Iraqi government."

The International Crisis Group, a Brussels, Belgium-based think-tank, said in June that Basra had become destabilized by warring militias and that locals believed British forces had been beaten into retreat.

"People are wrong to say where they have said it that our troops have not had a major impact on the security of the area," Brown said, claiming violence had eased.

Basra would continue "to make progress because we are still there in large numbers," Brown told reporters.

The leader struck a softer tone on Iran, saying he hoped that diplomacy would be effective in restraining the country from developing nuclear weapons, but that he would support a third U.N. resolution imposing further sanctions if necessary.

In July, Brown said he believed stiffer sanctions were imminent and declined to rule out taking future military action against Tehran.

But last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported "significant" cooperation from Iran and noted that it had slowed uranium enrichment.

"There is evidence that it has been working," Brown said. "But if necessary we will support a third United Nations resolution on this matter."

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