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Friday, 26 July, 2002, 06:37 GMT 07:37 UK
Blair says Iraq attack 'not imminent'
Tony Blair at the Downing Street press conference
Tony Blair taking questions in Downing Street
Military action against Iraq is not imminent, according to Prime Minister Tony Blair.

He told the second of his new monthly televised news conferences that the government had not reached a decision about a potential attack on the country led by Saddam Hussein.

Mr Blair did however warn that dealing with weapons of mass destruction was the next step in the war against terror.

Prime Minister's vacation:
A short break in the UK next week
Summer family holiday in France
In a wide-ranging question and answer session Mr Blair told how he had had an "open mind" about Ken Livingstone rejoining Labour, but he said the London mayor's application was rejected because it was not clear that he would obey party rules.

Other topics raised saw him insist that stock market volatility would not have an impact on whether or not to go ahead with a euro referendum.

And asked (after a BBC Radio Five Live listener's suggestion) whether the 21-year-old Tony Blair would back the current Tony Blair's policies, the prime minister said, probably not, he would have wanted them to be more radical.

Regular appearances

On comments that the UK was returning to the "bad old days" of the 1970s, when the country was riven by strikes, he said: "It will never happen while I'm prime minister."

He also suggested that the British army base in Gibraltar could become a Nato one, with Spanish forces able to use it.

Mr Blair said he did not want to speculate about potential military action against Iraq, but he argued: "Action is not imminent - we are not at the point of a decision yet."

He said the West was not ready to release a promised dossier on Saddam Hussein.

The new "presidential" conferences are part of efforts to show the government is not obsessed with "spin".

Mr Blair has put in an appearance at Parliament almost every day for the past fortnight, either answering questions himself or supporting ministers who have been making statements to MPs.

War fears

But his latest televised question and answer session follows a succession of highly critical reports of ministers' performance.

MPs have been particularly critical of the government's handling of the foot and mouth outbreak and preparations to deal with future terrorist attacks.

But the issue most exercising left-wing Labour MPs has been the prospect of a new war with Iraq.

Reacting to Mr Blair's latest comments Labour's Paul Flynn told that there was genuine concern on the government's backbenches.

He told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme: "It's very worrying to many Labour MPs that we might be engaging in a war not with a man who lives in a cave but with the leader of a sophisticated modern state and who certainly possesses if not nuclear weapons then biological and chemical weapons."

They fear Mr Blair will agree later this summer to support a possible military offensive without first getting the approval of Parliament.

Lobby moves?

At the first news conference last month, Mr Blair was judged to have given a relaxed and confident performance, without giving too much away about policy.

In a separate development, Downing Street announced earlier this year it wants to scrap, or at least modify, the lobby system.

Until now, lobby journalists have gathered every morning in a room in the bowels of 10 Downing Street to hear from the prime minister's official spokesman.

That system appears on its way to being replaced with US-style news conferences open to a broader range of reporters where ministers might explain the government's stance on a story.

The BBC's Andrew Marr
"The next question is how much do the US and Britain know about Iraq's weapons?"

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See also:

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