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Wednesday, 7 August, 2002, 16:55 GMT 17:55 UK
Iraq war 'not inevitable' says UK
Colonel Gaddafi
Gaddafi is being urged to help tackle terror
War with Iraq is neither "imminent nor inevitable", according to the UK minister holding historic talks in Libya with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien says the ball is in Saddam Hussein's court but allowing weapons inspections would make a difference.


If international law is complied with, of course the position will then be very different

Mike O'Brien
UK minister
Mr O'Brien made the comments as he became the first British minister to visit Libya since 1983.

The minister is meeting Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi to try to persuade him to back the international war against terrorism.

Different directions

Libya has in the past been seen as a sponsor of terror groups but Mr O'Brien said it now realised its best interests lay in keeping to international rules.

In contrast, Iraq was moving in the opposite direction, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The prospect of attack on Iraq was expected to be on the agenda for Wednesday's talks in Tripoli.

Mike O'Brien, Foreign Office Minister
O'Brien says Libya wants to be in the international fold
Mr O'Brien said: "Nobody wants war for the sake of it. We understand there are issues in relation to Iraq. In particular, we need to make sure the inspectors go in.

"The ball is no in Saddam Hussein's court. He must ensure that the inspectors go into Iraq and that international is complied with.

"If international law is complied with, of course the position will then be very different."

Regime change

Mr O'Brien said he knew nobody in the UK who wanted Saddam Hussein to stay in power, but getting access for weapons inspectors was the clear objective.

That stands in contrast with US policy, which has "regime change" as its ultimate goal.
Wpc Yvonne Fletcher was shot in 1984
Yvonne Fletcher's murder will be discussed in Tripoli

US arms control minister John Bolton has said: "That policy will not be altered whether the inspectors go in or not."

Mr O'Brien's words will be seen as evidence that the UK is taking a different stance to Washington, despite the close links between Tony Blair and President George Bush.

UK's 'peace role'

Iraq's representative in London has urged the UK to act as a brake on what is seen as America's more hawkish line.

Mudhafar Amin told Today: "We think Britain could play a very positive crucial role in convincing the Americans ... to finding a peaceful means to solving the problem."

United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan says Iraq must accept the Security Council's terms on disarmament and weapons inspections before a UN official can take up an Iraqi invitation to visit.

Mr O'Brien said the difference was that Libya was moving towards complying with international laws while Iraq was going in the opposite direction.

Libya talks

Former military chiefs and ex-Conservative Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd have voiced their unease about possible action against Iraq.

The disquiet of several Labour MPs on the problem is clear and religious leaders said on Tuesday that war against Iraq would be illegal and immoral.

Mr O'Brien hoped to use his milestone meeting with Colonel Gaddafi to ask for intelligence information about the al-Qaeda terror group.

"A Libya which no longer supports terrorism is very much in Britain's interest," he said.

"Our hard-headed judgement all along is that we are more likely to achieve that by encouraging rather than isolating Libya."

Also on the agenda was compensation from Libya for the Lockerbie bombing and the investigation into the 1984 murder of Wpc Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London.

Possible economic ties were also thought likely topics for discussion amid the diplomatic thaw, while Colonel Gaddafi wants sanctions, already suspended, to be permanently lifted.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
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Defence Committee Chairman Bruce George
"Attempts at dividing the alliance will proceed in the months ahead"
Iraqi representative in London Dr Mudhafar Amin
"Iraq wishes Britain to exercise positive influence on America"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
UK and Libya
Should relations be restored between them?
See also:

07 Aug 02 | Middle East
07 Aug 02 | Middle East
07 Aug 02 | Politics
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06 Aug 02 | Middle East
11 Jul 02 | Politics
05 Jul 02 | Americas
13 Jul 02 | Politics
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