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Friday, 1 March, 2002, 09:14 GMT
Britain backs US over Iraq
Saddam Hussein
Iraq offers to let arms inspectors in if sites are named
Britain would back US action against Iraq if the "conditions were right", says Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon.

The comments come amid mounting speculation that America is preparing to target Saddam Hussein's regime as phase two of the war on terror.

If there is no evidence of wrong doing, then I can't understand why Iraq should not allow inspectors to look a various sites

Geoff Hoon
Defence Secretary
Mr Hoon stressed "absolutely no decisions have been taken about any prospect of an attack" but said the lesson of 11 September was that threats to stability could not be ignored.

Earlier a former Labour defence minister urged Prime Minister Tony Blair to resist "hawks" in the US administration and their "vendetta" against Iraq.

Weapons fears

Mr Hoon told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I am confident that if the right conditions were set out we would support the United States."

Those conditions for an attack included whether Iraq was observing international law and the UN Security Council resolutions on allowing in weapons inspectors, he said.

Iraq denies claims it is hiding away plants making weapons of mass destruction.

Peter Kilfoyle, former defence minister
Kilfoyle has voiced backbench unease
But Mr Hoon said: "If there is no evidence of wrongdoing, then I can't understand why Iraq should not allow inspectors to look a various sites."

On Thursday, the Iraqi Government said it was ready to let in British arms inspectors if the UK can say where the weapons of mass destruction are being kept.

"If Blair tells us, and the world, where and when these weapons are being produced (in Iraq), we are ready to immediately receive a British mission sent by Blair, accompanied by a group of British media men," a Baghdad government spokesman was quoted by the Iraqi News Agency INA as saying.

Mr Hoon said the UK would examine such an offer, which would be welcome if it allowed full inspections.

He added: "What September 11 did was that it concentrated our minds on those places, those countries in particular, that we had perhaps taken our eye off and had not sufficiently concentrated on and that were a threat to world security."

Labour 'consternation'

That came after Mr Blair appeared to support George Bush's tough line against Iraq and other countries he says pose a military threat.

The issue is causing unease among some Labour backbenchers, who were concerned by Mr Bush's axis of evil speech.

Former minister Peter Kilfoyle told BBC News Online: "There is no mandate for the UK Government to genuflect to the hawks in the American administration in Iraq.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein has accused the US of bullying
"My belief is there would be a great deal of consternation amongst the Parliamentary Labour Party and indeed the wider party, as well as the British people, about some kind of reflex action which would support an American vendetta against Iraq."

During a telephone call on Thursday, Mr Blair and Mr Bush discussed how to respond to the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Blair's spokesman said the issue had to be addressed but no decisions had been taken yet on the best strategy for dealing with them.

Threat to stability

Mr Blair is expected to go to the US in April for talks with President Bush, which are likely to cover the threat posed by Iraq and similar states.

During an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Mr Blair stopped short of endorsing US President George W Bush's characterisation of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil".

There was no direct evidence connecting Iraq to the events of 11 September, he said.

But Mr Blair continued: "The accumulation of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq poses a threat, not just to the region but to the wider world."

"And I think George Bush was absolutely right to raise it.

"Now what action we take in respect of that, that is an open matter for discussion."

Mr Bush has threatened unspecified consequences against Iraq unless UN weapons inspectors, thrown out in 1998, are allowed back into the country.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said "any attack on Iraq at this stage would be unwise".

The BBC's Bridget Kendall
"The US needs regional bases"
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
"No decisions at all have been taken about military action against Iraq"
See also:

25 Feb 02 | Middle East
Annan to tackle Iraq over arms
24 Feb 02 | Middle East
Blair and Bush 'to discuss Iraq action'
23 Feb 02 | Middle East
Saddam scorns Bush 'baby talk'
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