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Saturday, 15 February, 2003, 13:04 GMT
Blair backs UN route on Iraq
UN inspectors checking Badir al-Kubra Primary School in Baghdad
Blair: UN inspectors are "not a detective agency"
The UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has said he still believes the United Nations should deal with Iraqi disarmament, but toppling Saddam Hussein would be "an act of humanity".

I hope even now Iraq can be disarmed peacefully, with or without Saddam

Tony Blair

Mr Blair was speaking a day after chief weapons inspector Hans Blix told the UN Security Council that after almost three months of work, his team had found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

He told a conference of his Labour party in Glasgow that "there will be more time given to inspections" - but he also stressed "the moral case for removing Saddam".

The BBC's political correspondent, Jon Devitt, says Mr Blair seemed to suggest that an aim of action against Iraq was now regime change - in line with the US administration's view.

"I continue to want to solve the issue of Iraq and weapons of mass destruction through the United Nations," Mr Blair said.

Anti-war demonstrators should remember the hundreds of thousands of people whose deaths the Iraqi leader was responsible for, Mr Blair said.

He warned that if the issue of Iraqi disarmament was not dealt with then the authority of the UN would be compromised and a far bloodier conflict would eventually come.

"If we do not confront these twin menaces of rogue states with weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, they will not disappear. They will just feed and grow on our weakness," he said.

Divisions

The UN Security Council remains deeply divided over the Iraq crisis.

Chief inspector Hans Blix (r) presenting report at UN
Blix: Demanding more Iraqi transparency

France, China and Russia - which all have the power of veto - say inspectors should be given the time they need to complete their task.

But the US, backed by Britain, says Iraq must not be allowed to string out the inspections process.

The US and Britain would prefer the UN Security Council to pass a second resolution authorising the use of force against Iraq - which would provide international backing.

But Friday's session demonstrated the level of opposition within the Security Council to any moves to cut the inspections short, the BBC's Susannah Price reports.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell refused to give a deadline for action against Iraq, but he said "we are talking weeks".

Mixed results

Mr Blix said that while serious questions did still remain - notably the disappearance of large quantities of chemical and biological material - definite progress had been made.

COUNCIL VIEWS
Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan (l) and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin
For military action: US, UK, Spain
Sceptics or opposed: France, Russia, China, Germany and Syria
In doubt: Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan
Nine votes and no veto required to pass a resolution

In his report, Mr Blix said that while disarmament could be still be achieved, "the issues of anthrax, the nerve agent VX and long-range missiles [are]... perhaps the most important problem we are facing.

"Iraq itself must squarely tackle this task and avoid belittling the questions," he said.

The chief inspector said 1,000 tons of banned chemicals and other proscribed weapons remained unaccounted for.

Mr Blix, however, cast doubt on American intelligence material presented to the Security Council last week by Colin Powell.

He said he had no evidence that Iraq had had advance warning of inspections - as has been claimed by the US - and said images said to show suspicious movement at an Iraqi weapons site could have been pictures of "routine activity".

He said private interviews with Iraqi scientists - a key sticking point - had "proved informative", but no interviews had taken place on the UN's terms since 9 February.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, repeated his finding that his inspectors had discovered no evidence that Iraq was restarting its nuclear programme.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Steve Kingstone
"For now the talking is being left to the Secretary of State"
Dr Hans Blix, chief UN weapons inspector
"Iraq itself must squarely tackle this task"
Mohamed ElBaradei, IAEA head
"We have to date found no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear activities"
 VOTE RESULTS
Should UN inspectors be given more time?

Yes
 66.07% 

No
 33.90% 

30577 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


Is an attack on Iraq justified? BBC News Online has spoken to people around the world
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15 Feb 03 | Middle East
15 Feb 03 | Media reports
15 Feb 03 | Middle East
15 Feb 03 | Americas
14 Feb 03 | Europe
14 Feb 03 | Politics
14 Feb 03 | Middle East
14 Feb 03 | Middle East
13 Feb 03 | Middle East
14 Feb 03 | Asia-Pacific
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