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 Monday, 20 January, 2003, 22:07 GMT
UK pledges large Iraq force
Iraqi troops and UN inspectors
The UN says time is running out for Iraq
The United Kingdom is to deploy 26,000 more troops for possible military action against Iraq - a far higher figure than anticipated.

The UK Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, also announced that 150 armoured personnel carriers and 120 tanks were being sent to Kuwait before mid-February.

Geoff Hoon
Geoff Hoon said a threat of force against Iraq was needed

Earlier on Monday, Iraq agreed to a series of concessions with United Nations weapons inspectors, as pressure grew on Baghdad to prove it had scrapped its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programmes.

The most important point agreed was that a list would be drawn up of people who could be interviewed by inspectors without any Iraqi officials being present.

Interviews with scientists - who might be taken out of Iraq, possibly to Cyprus - have been demanded by the US Government, but Baghdad had previously objected.

However, Iraqi conditions for allowing US spy planes to fly over its territory were described as "not acceptable" by UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix.

Gulf forces

Although the 26,000 extra troops is a major deployment by British standards, the US has already amassed about 52,000 troops in the region and another 60,000 are being deployed.

Britain has already sent a naval task force with 8,000 sailors and commandos to the Gulf region.

Mr Hoon stressed that there was no commitment to military action, but the deployment would fit the task if action against Iraq was needed.

"While we want (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein to disarm voluntarily, it is evident that we will not achieve this unless we continue to present him with a clear and credible threat of force," he said.

US warning

America piled more pressure on Baghdad on Monday.

Mohamed ElBaradei and Hans Blix
ElBaradei and Blix: Guarded optimism

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said the UN must not be scared into "impotence" in dealing with Iraq's reluctance to co-operate with weapons inspectors and its failure to disarm.

"Hopefully, there will be a peaceful solution," he told the UN Security Council.

"But if Iraq does not come into full compliance, we must not shrink from the responsibilities that we set before ourselves."

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also indicated that America's patience with Iraq was wearing thin.

"We're nearing the end of the long road, and with every other option exhausted," he told an Army Reserve conference in the US.

In response to international calls for inspectors to be given months more to hunt for weapons, Mr Rumsfeld said: "It will not take months to determine whether or not they are co-operating."

Missing munitions

The UN's chief weapons inspector and the head of the UN's nuclear agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, ended two days of talks with a 10-point agreement struck with Iraqi officials.

KEY DATES
27 Jan - First full report on inspections presented to UN
29 Jan - UN discusses report
31 Jan - Bush meets Blair
15 Feb - Anti-war protests across Europe
27 Mar - Blix submits new report to UN

As part of Monday's deal, the Iraqi officials agreed to set up a team to search for munitions that had been missed out of its declaration on weapons programmes made last December.

Last week, 11 empty chemical warheads were found by inspectors which Iraq said had been mistakenly left out of its 12,000-page declaration.

Mr Blix said he was "fairly confident" Iraq would honour the agreements.

He said Iraq and the UN had not yet discussed "substantive issues" related to anthrax, Scud missiles and the lethal VX nerve gas.

From Baghdad, Mr ElBaradei and Mr Blix went to Athens to brief the current European Union president.

They will report to the UN Security Council on 27 January.

Mr ElBaradei said the two men planned to tell the Council their work in Iraq had not been finished.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Mark Mardell
"British support is politically crucial"
  UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
"A decision to employ force has not been taken"

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20 Jan 03 | Europe
19 Jan 03 | Middle East
20 Jan 03 | Middle East
19 Jan 03 | Middle East
19 Jan 03 | Middle East
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