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Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 19:21 GMT 20:21 UK
Straw plays down Iraq war talk
Saddam Hussein
Straw says world consensus is against Saddam
Weapons inspectors are the best way of reducing the threat posed by Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said.

Military action had to remain an option but the possibility of an attack would "recede" if other ways of tackling the risk of Iraq were found, he said on Thursday.


The best way of trying to isolate and reduce the threat is by the introduction of weapons inspectors

Jack Straw
UK Foreign Secretary
A change of government in Iraq would be welcomed, said Mr Straw, but it was not the goal of British foreign policy.

His words will be seen as underlining a difference from American ambitions for "regime change" in Baghdad, but Mr Straw said the US did not view military action as the "option of choice" either.

The minister suggested it was "jumping the gun" to be talking of an attack on Iraq now.

Differences denied

Mr Straw's comments were seized on by Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell as evidence of "clear water" between London and Washington.

"The foreign secretary's remarks place Britain in a quite different position from the hawks in the Bush administration," he said.

"The UK Government should now be leading the charge to compel Saddam Hussein to readmit the UN inspectors with full, unfettered and open access to every installation they wish."

But a foreign office spokesman said it was "completely wrong" to suggest Mr Straw's remarks indicated a difference of approach.

He said the US and other members of the UN Security Council had called "on numerous occasions" for the resumption of weapons inspections.

"The US has made clear, like us, that no decision has been taken to launch military action," the spokesman stressed.

'Unconditional'

Both the US and UK have stressed the need to deal with Iraq's alleged attempts to build-up weapons of mass destruction.

United Nations weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998 and since then have not been allowed to return.

This month, Iraq offered to hold talks with UN officials about the possible return of inspectors.

Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary
Jack Straw says war talk is "jumping the gun"
But the latest offer fell short of the UN's insistence that such an invitation must be unconditional.

Mr Straw told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If Saddam Hussein allows weapons inspectors back without condition, without restriction and when they are allowed to do their job properly, then the circumstances will change.

"What everybody is concerned about is, yes, it's a terribly bad regime, but particularly about the threat Saddam poses from both his capability and his record to the security of the region and the security of the world.

"The best way of trying to isolate and reduce that threat is by the introduction of weapons inspectors."

Keeping attack option

Mr Straw said military action had to remain an option because of the risks posed by Saddam Hussein.

If there was another way of dealing with that threat, then the case for international action "recedes", he said.

US President George Bush met with his senior officials at his ranch in Crawford, Texas on Wednesday.

George Bush, US President
George Bush says "regime change" is in the world's interests
Some observers suggested the meeting amounted to a war cabinet but the president said Iraq had not been discussed at the talks.

Mr Bush repeated his assertion that Iraqi "regime change is in the interests of the world".

But he promised to consult with his allies before making any decisions.

British opposition to Iraq is set to be aired at next month's Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party conference.

Several Labour MPs have argued that an attack on Iraq could destabilise the Middle East and break international law.

Such critics want Parliament to debate the issue before any decisions are made.

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UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
"I don't believe, from all my discussions with the Americans, that military action is the option of choice"

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See also:

21 Aug 02 | Americas
21 Aug 02 | Politics
19 Aug 02 | Politics
26 Jul 02 | Politics
29 Jul 02 | Politics
24 Jul 02 | Politics
16 Aug 02 | Politics
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