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Monday, 25 March, 2002, 14:11 GMT
Blair warns of terror 'marriage'
F-18 Hornet warplane on the USS Enterprise during bombing in December 1998.
Raids on Iraq have continued since the Gulf War
Downing Street has warned of "a possible marriage" between Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda forces.

The prime minister's spokesman said Britain should not ignore the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction - material that the terror network is known to be interested in and which the Iraqi leader has used against his own people.

What we need is not so much a diplomacy of hindsight, but rather a diplomacy of foresight

Jack Straw
Foreign Secretary

Iraq is likely to be the top of the agenda when Tony Blair visits US President George Bush next month.

But the spokesman added: "The idea that the prime minister is going out to have some sort of council of war with George Bush is to misrepresent where we are."

At a conference on the long-term implications of the 11 September terror attacks, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he was "full square with the reasonable people within the international community" when it comes to the use of military force in Iraq.

No UN mandate?

He urged countries to act together in overcoming instability and threats to order around the world, employing what he called a "diplomacy of foresight".

His comments follow Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon's suggestion that Britain could launch a military attack on Iraq without a specific UN mandate if Saddam Hussein was seen as a threat.

Jack Straw
Straw: International diplomacy is good value for money.

He appeared to be at odds with International Development Secretary Clare Short, who has insisted any military action against Iraq would require a specific UN mandate.

Many Labour MPs are deeply concerned that Britain will get involved in a military campaign in Iraq and more than 130 MPs have signed a parliamentary motion on the issue.

'Brutal record'

Mr Straw said human rights abuses were often a precursor to failure or serious regional instability.

He said that in Iraq there was a powerful central authority, but also a "consistent record of brutal contempt for universal values stretching back many years".

He said the challenge was to "stand up to the bullies like Saddam Hussein", and not leave problems for another generation to sort out.

"What we need is not so much a diplomacy of hindsight, but rather a diplomacy of foresight," said Mr Straw.

The UK and its allies should use diplomacy as an "early warning system" to prevent conflicts like Afghanistan happening elsewhere in the world, said Mr Straw.

Campaign costs

Mr Straw cited interventions in the Balkans, Kosovo and Macedonia as examples of how diplomacy could also provide good value for money.

In the 1990s, Britain failed to halt ethnic cleansing in Bosnia despite European nations committing thousands of troops to a UN mission, and the campaign cost the British taxpayer at least 1.5bn.

In Kosovo in 1998, four years after the Dayton Agreement, Nato was able to act with greater speed and determination and the taxpayer ended up paying in contrast 200m.

Last year, another Balkans conflict in Macedonia was minimised and the cost to the taxpayer was just 14m.

Mr Straw has insisted that any action against Iraq will take place under international law.

But Mr Straw stressed that if Baghdad continued to refuse to allow UN weapons inspectors back into the country, then the position in international law may well change.

Former Culture Secretary Chris Smith on Sunday warned against Britain "going on the coat-tails" of US unilateral action against Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

See also:

24 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Majority 'want Blair to resign'
24 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Straw bids to ease Iraq fears
20 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Blair defends troop deployment
15 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Straw: No Iraq decision yet
12 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Straw outlines Iraq's 'severe threat'
28 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Blair hints at Iraq action
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