WASHINGTON - British Prime Minister Tony Blair told Congress Thursday he believes "with every fiber of instinct and conviction" that the U.S. and British led war on Iraq was justified - and that history will forgive them if weapons allegations used as justification were wrong.
"We promised Iraq democratic government. We will deliver it," he said.
The prime minister suggested that history will forgive the toppling of Saddam Hussein's government even if it turns out that Blair and President Bush were wrong about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
To have hesitated "in the face of this menace when we should have given leadership ... that is something that history will not forgive," Blair said, to loud applause from House members and senators.
Blair entered the House chamber to a standing ovation of lawmakers, senior Bush administration officials and American military brass.
The prime minister wryly thanked his audience for a "warm and generous welcome that's more than I deserve, and it's more than I'm used to, quite frankly."
That was a reference to domestic Birtish politics. Before the war, Blair drew stronger opposition in the House of Commons to military action than Bush did in Congress. And like Bush, he has been hit hard by post-war controversy over questionable intelligence about Saddam Hussein's nuclear aims.
Blair's visit to Congress, and then to the White House for a meeting and joint news conference with Bush, came amid deepening questions about the intelligence information both leaders used in arguing that war against Iraq was necessary.
The two leaders were the closest of allies on the war, but the relationship has been strained in recent weeks over questions about British claims that Iraq sought to buy uranium in Africa and the president's use of such an assertion in his Jan. 28 State of the Union address.
"Can we be sure that terrorists and weapons of mass destruction will join together?" Blair asked. "Let us say one thing. If we are wrong, we will have destroyed a threat that at its least is responsible for inhumane carnage and suffering."
Blair arrived aboard his British Airways jet in early afternoon and went directly to Capitol Hill. It was the first leg of a seven-day tour that will also take him to Asia. He is the first British prime minister to address a joint meeting of Congress since Margaret Thatcher in 1985.
His speech also touched on the war on terrorism, the Middle East peace process, the need to eradicate poverty, disease and famine in Africa and the need to promote free trade.
"This terrorism will not be defeated without peace in the Middle East," he said.
In what appeared to be mild criticism of the Bush administration, Blair also said it was important to act in coalitions, not going it alone. "Let us start preferring a coalition and acting alone if we have to, not the other way around," he said.
And, he called on lawmakers not to continue to bear grudges against European countries who opposed the war.
"They are our allies. And yours. So don't give up on Europe," he said.
"When we invade Afghanistan or Iraq, our responsibility does not end with military victory," Blair said. "Finishing the fighting is not finishing the job. We promised Iraq democratic government. We will deliver it."
"We promised them the chance to use their oil wells to build prosperity for all their citizens, not a corrupt elite. We will stay with these people so in need of help until the job is done."
"I believe with every fiber of instinct and conviction I have that we are" right in deciding to go to war without broad international support, Blair said.
Ahead of his visit, White House spokesman Scott McClellan reiterated the recent administration stance that Bush's mention of the British Iraq-Africa report should not have been included in the January address.
Still, he added, "the British have been very clear that they stand by that statement."
Bush said in his State of the Union address, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
The Iraq-Africa dispute has stoked criticism against both the Blair and Bush governments, and Blair's visit helped to further draw attention.
CIA Director George Tenet has thus far taken the blame, suggesting he should have objected when a draft of Bush's speech was circulated to his agency.
And the White House has continued try to deflect responsibility away from the president - even though a page on the White House Web site shows a picture of Bush working on his speech, with a caption that says "President Bush reviews the State of the Union address line-by-line and word-by-word."
Asked about that on Thursday, McClellan said there were "a lot of people involved "who had input into the president's speech. "And the bottom line is the speech was cleared. But we learned some more information later and we should not have included it in there."
U.S.-British ties have also been strained by the fate of two British terror suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay.
Blair is under pressure to raise the issue of Moazzam Begg, 35, and Feroz Abbasi, 23 - Britons being held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. More than 200 British lawmakers signed a parliamentary motion protesting any American plans to try them before a military tribunal.