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EDITIONS
 Sunday, 19 January, 2003, 06:21 GMT
No 'smoking gun' needed in Iraq
Weapons inspectors
Weapons inspectors are due to report on 27 January
United Nations weapons inspectors do not have to find a "smoking gun" proving Iraq has weapons of mass destruction to trigger war, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has reportedly warned.

"Persuasive evidence" that President Saddam Hussein has nuclear, biological or chemicals weapons may be enough to warrant military strikes by Britain and the US, he told the Sunday Telegraph.

We believe that the right thing to follow would be a further Security Council resolution

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon

It is expected Mr Hoon will announce as early as Monday he is putting 14,000 troops on stand-by for operations in the Gulf, said the paper.

His reported comments came the day after thousands of people across the UK joined in a show of opposition in 18 countries to an impending war with Iraq.

'Prohibited finds'

The defence secretary said: "Clearly we believe there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

"We would expect Hans Blix [chief UN weapons inspector] and his team to discover indications of them - a shell or a missile or something clearly prohibited, or documentary evidence," he said.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
Mr Hoon believes Iraq has prohibited weapons
Mr Hoon told the paper inspectors may interview someone who had been working on these programmes who might explain what has been going on.

"It's not literally a smoking gun.

"It is persuasive evidence that confirms what we believe to be the case - that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."

On Saturday the United Nations atomic agency voiced concerns about documents apparently relating to nuclear technology found in an Iraqi scientist's home but said it was too soon to say what the documents were for certain.

One of the scientists has categorically denied any link between the documents and Iraq's former nuclear weapons programme.

Mobilisation

Meanwhile up to 14,000 UK troops, with around 150 Challenger 2 battle tanks from the 7th Armoured Brigade are being placed on standby ready to move, said the Sunday Telegraph.

Mr Hoon acknowledged "anxieties" within the country about a possible war against Iraq, and said Britain would try to gain a fresh resolution of the United Nations Security Council before military strikes were launched.

"We believe that the right thing to follow would be a further Security Council resolution - that is what we will work to achieve," he said.

Dr Blix, who met Prime Minister Tony Blair on Friday to update him on the team's progress, is due to report to the UN Security Council in New York on 27 January.

Mr Blair has said he is confident of turning the tide of public opinion in Britain if war with Iraq becomes necessary.


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