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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 07:33 GMT 08:33 UK
Blair bids to calm Iraq fears
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
Labour MPs are concerned about action against Iraq.
Downing Street is seeking to calm fears over possible action against Iraq, saying it is wrong to believe a military response is imminent.

Alarm was sparked among Labour MPs following Tony Blair's warning that Britain could join US-led military action against Saddam Hussein.

We are still in the position of identifying the problem and laying down conditions for Saddam

Tony Blair
Prime Minister

The prime minister, who returned on Monday from a summit in Texas with President George Bush, will try to persuade his own backbenchers during a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party on Wednesday that America is only interested in peace.

He is said to have described those opposing action against Iraq as "naive".

Mr Blair has insisted Mr Bush isn't planning precipitate military action and that, says Downing Street, will be the message the prime minister will deliver to the Parliamentary Labour Party on Wednesday morning.

Mr Blair will also make a Commons statement on Wednesday on the role the UK could play in efforts to bring about a ceasefire in the Middle East.

Inspectors demand

Nearly 150 backbench MPs, mostly Labour, have already signed a Commons motion expressing "deep unease" about British involvement in any attacks on Iraq.

In Texas on Sunday, Mr Blair said that Saddam Hussein had to allow weapons inspectors back into Iraq "anytime, any place" the international community demanded.

Mr Blair and Mr Bush
Blair and Bush have formed a strong alliance

He has insisted President Bush is not planning precipitate military action and that will be the message he will deliver to Labour MPs on Wednesday morning, says Downing Street.

Speaking to journalists on the plane back to London, Mr Blair said: "We are still in the position of identifying the problem and laying down conditions for Saddam.

'Calm and measured'

"People don't want us to act precipitately for the wrong reasons in the wrong way."

But he added: "If necessary the action should be military and again, if necessary and justified, it should involve regime change".

Promising a "calm and measured" approach, he stressed that leaving Iraq to develop weapons of mass destruction was not an option.

To deal with Iraq, you need to deal with the problems in the UN, not through unilateral or bilateral action

Peter Kilfoyle MP

But former minister Glenda Jackson argued it was "irresponsible" to heighten rhetoric over Iraq without evidence that Saddam was creating weapons of mass destruction and could deliver them.

Hard right stance

"Until that potential has been verified, the international community should be concentrating on what is already happening in the Middle East," she said.

Labour MP George Galloway accused Mr Blair of "basking in the adulation of the hard right" US Republican administration.

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein
The message to Hussein is clear, says Blair

And Labour former defence minister Peter Kilfoyle said: "I do have concerns about being seen to be tied in some of the more adventurous notions of the American administration.

"To deal with Iraq, you need to deal with the problems in the UN, not through unilateral or bilateral action."

Meanwhile the government sought to shift attention from Iraq to the Middle East by roundly condemning Israel after a Palestinian was shot dead at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity - the reputed birthplace of Christ.

Foreign Office Minister Ben Bradshaw warned the Israelis that they were playing a "dangerous game".

Mr Blair, who later on Monday arrived back in London from talks in Prague about the future of European enlargement, stressed that a peace process, such as in Northern Ireland, could be achieved, pointing to the statement on Monday of a substantial decommissioning of arms by the IRA.

The BBC's Ian Pannell in Washington
"White House aides are delighted that Tony Blair has given his strongest backing yet against Iraq"
Iraq's London representative Dr Mudhaffar Amin
"Iraq is wiling to negotiate"
UK shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram
"The objective has to be achieved of removing these weapons"
See also:

08 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair to set out Mid-East stance
08 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair ready to take on critics
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Iraq vows to defy Western 'enemy'
07 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair faces revolt over Iraq
07 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair faces dissent over Iraq
06 Apr 02 | Middle East
US and UK demand Israel pullout
06 Apr 02 | Americas
Allies sit down to 'mammoth task'
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