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Sunday, 7 April, 2002, 18:38 GMT 19:38 UK
Blair - 'We are ready to act on Iraq'
Tony Blair and George W Bush
Blair and Bush are standing firm
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By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online's political correspondent, travelling with the prime minister

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has given his strongest indication yet that he is ready to back military action against Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

In a keynote speech in Texas, he said Britain, America and the EU should be prepared to act wherever terrorism or weapons of mass destruction threatened them.

If necessary the action should be military and again, if necessary and justified, it should involve regime change

Tony Blair
Prime Minister

He said action was not imminent and offered Saddam Hussein a possible way out by allowing weapons inspectors unlimited access to his facilities.

But he left guests at the George Bush Senior Presidential Library, College Station, in little doubt that he was prepared to take on his critics at home and back US action against Baghdad.

Mr Blair also said that Britain would be ready to help monitor a ceasefire between Israel and Palestine, to help end the Middle East crisis.

Action not imminent

On Iraq he said: "If necessary the action should be military and again, if necessary and justified, it should involve regime change," he said.

But, speaking to an audience of senior academics and politicians - including former President George Bush, who led the 1991 Gulf war against Iraq - he said action was not imminent.

With the opposition to military action against Iraq growing in Britain and the EU, he declared: "I know some fear precipitate action. They needn't.

The moment for decision on how to act is not yet with us

Tony Blair
Prime Minister

"We will proceed, as we did after 11 September, in a calm, measured, sensible but firm way.

"But leaving Iraq to develop weapons of mass destruction in flagrant breach of no less than nine separate UN resolutions, refusing still to allow weapons inspectors back to do their work properly is not an option."

Clearly eager to meet head-on the opposition from his own backbenchers and some ministers, he said: "The moment for decision on how to act is not yet with us.

"But to allow weapons of mass destruction to be developed by a state like Iraq without let or hindrance would be grossly to ignore the lessons of 11 September - and we will not do it.

'Axis of evil'

"The message to Saddam is clear. He has to let the inspectors back in - anyone, anytime, any place that the international community demands."

He also turned his attention to the "axis of evil" states targeted by President Bush suggesting he would even support action there.

Sponsoring terrorism or weapons of mass destruction is not acceptable

Tony Blair
Prime Minister

"We cannot of course intervene in all cases but where countries are engaged in the terror or weapons of mass destruction business, we should not shirk from confronting them.

"Some can be offered a way out, a route to respectability. I hope in time that Syria, Iran and even North Korea can accept the need to change their relations dramatically with the outside world.

Peacemaking role

"A new relationship is on offer but they must know that sponsoring terrorism or weapons of mass destruction is not acceptable."

Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, he said: "In monitoring any such ceasefire and in ensuring that the Palestinian Authority genuinely takes action against the terrorists, we and others stand ready to help in any way we can."

He again urged President Bush to remain engaged, declaring: "Above all the Middle East requires continuous focus and engagement.

"The role of peacemaker, where hatreds are entrenched, is never easy but it is massively in our interests to try."

Underlining his support for President Bush, he said when America was fighting for the values of democracy and freedom, "we will fight with her."

"No grandstanding, no offering implausible but impractical advice from the comfort of the touchline, no wishing away the hard not the easy choices on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, or making peace in the Middle East, but working together side by side."

The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"Mr Blair is treading in extremely delicate diplomatic territory"
The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
"Blair was defiant"
The BBC's Nick Robinson
"Military action is looking likely"
See also:

07 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair faces revolt over Iraq
06 Apr 02 | Middle East
US and UK demand Israel pullout
06 Apr 02 | Americas
Allies sit down to 'mammoth task'
06 Apr 02 | Middle East
Battle rages in Palestinian camp
04 Apr 02 | Middle East
Bush intervenes in Mid-East crisis
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
EU proposes crisis diplomacy
06 Apr 02 | Middle East
Powell calls on Israel to withdraw
07 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair faces dissent over Iraq
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