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Thursday, December 17, 1998 Published at 11:42 GMT

Blair's statement on Iraq strikes: Full text

The full text of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's statement on 16 December on the launching of air strikes against Iraq:

[ image: Tony Blair:
Tony Blair: "We have engaged in endless diplomacy"
Earlier today, I gave authority for UK forces to be deployed against Iraq.

Operation Desert Fox was launched at 10 pm London time (2200 gmt).

There can be no greater responsibility upon a prime minister than to ask British servicemen to risk their lives for the sake of peace and stability in another part of the world, and I feel that responsibility tonight, profoundly.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's speech
I spoke earlier today to group captain Rich Jones, commander of British forces in the Gulf. British involvement will be significant, and I thanked them for their bravery and their professionalism. And I wished them well in what we would be asking of them.

'Degrade and diminish' weapons programme

This action could have been avoided. Since the Gulf War, the entire international community has worked to stop Saddam Hussein from keeping and developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and from continuing to threaten his neighbours.

For the safety and stability of the region and the wider world, he cannot be allowed to do so. If he will not, through reason and diplomacy, abandon his weapons of mass destruction programme, it must be degraded and diminished by military force.

Over the past few years, we have engaged in endless diplomacy, at every level and of every kind. But we must face the facts. Saddam Hussein has no intention of abiding by the agreements he has made. UN Resolution 687, bringing to an end the Gulf War, made it a condition of the ceasefire both that Iraq destroy its weapons of mass destruction and agree to the monitoring of its obligation to destroy such weapons.

Despite constant lies, prevarication and breaching of the agreed conditions, the weapons inspectors carried out their task, uncovering in the process vast evidence of weapons of mass destruction capability.

In October last year, Saddam Hussein started to impede their work even more seriously than before. Months of negotiation followed. Finally, faced with the threat of force, Saddam Hussein averted military action by entering into a binding memorandum of understanding with Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General.

He continued to obstruct. In August he suspended cooperation with the U.N. inspectors. On 30 October he ended the cooperation totally. He resisted all appeals to come back into compliance with the agreements he made. Indeed, quite the contrary. He used the time both for further prevarication and for the dispersal of military capability.

As you know, on 14 November I issued the authority to strike against Iraq as part of a joint US-UK operation. At the last moment, aware that he was about to be attacked, Saddam offered full, unconditional, unrestricted operation with UNSCOM.

We called off the attack. We made that last extra effort to avert force. The inspectors went back to work. We said at the time that we would hold Saddam to his word, and that should he break his word once more, there would be no warnings, no wranglings, no last-minute negotiations.

Report 'damning'

Richard Butler, head of the UN Special Commission, promised his report on Iraqi cooperation within a month.

It came out last night, on time, as scheduled. It is damning. It is a catalogue of obstruction. It shows quite clearly, one more time, that Saddam has no intention whatever of keeping to his word. He is a serial breaker of promises.

And the reason for his obstruction is also clear: it is his desire to develop these weapons of mass destruction.

He has not for one instant yielded up that malign intent. The threat is now, and it is a threat to his neighbours, to his people, and to the security of the world.

If he is not stopped now, the consequences to our future peace are real and fundamental. We cannot responsibly let that happen.

Let me remind you: since 1991 the inspectors destroyed or rendered harmless 48 Scud missiles, 49,000 chemical munitions, 690 tonnes of chemical agents, 3,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals and the Al Hakam biological weapons factory, destroyed in 1996. However, over 30,000 chemical weapons warheads and 4,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals remain unaccounted for.

No option but to act

The UN and the world community has shown by the resolution which has passed calling for unconditional cooperation with the weapons inspectors that it fully knows the seriousness of the threat he poses.

Following the Butler Report, after more than a year of obstruction and a catalogue of broken promises, we have no option but to act.

Our objectives in this military action are clear: to degrade his capability to build and use weapons of mass destruction, and to diminish the military threat he poses to his neighbours.

The targets chosen, therefore, are targets connected with his military capability, his weapons of mass destruction capacity, and his ability to threaten his neighbours.

We are taking every possible care to avoid civilian casualties.

Quarrel not with the Iraqi people

I cannot, for obvious reasons, go into any operational details.

But I do want to say one further thing. Our quarrel is not with the Iraqi people, it never has been.

The whole world should know we have allowed Saddam to sell oil to buy as much food and medicine for the Iraqi people as necessary. It is a lie for him to say otherwise. He could have fed and cared for his people but he has chosen not to.

Our quarrel is with him alone and the evil regime he represents.

There is no realistic alternative to military force. We are taking military action with real regret but also with real determination. We have exhausted all other avenues. We act because we must.

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