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Thursday, 29 August, 2002, 17:57 GMT 18:57 UK
UK may set Iraq deadline
Falluja-3, a suspected weapons of mass destruction factory in Iraq
Iraq has barred UN weapons inspectors
A deadline for Iraq to allow UN inspectors to renew their search for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons may be proposed by the UK Government.

Ministers said they were considering a call from a committee of MPs to propose a deadline for Saddam Hussein to comply with previous UN Security Council resolutions.

What we are doing is putting the ball back in Saddam Hussein's court

Jack Straw
Foreign Secretary

They did not say whether the UN Security Council should set the deadline, or what should be done if the Iraqi leader ignored it.

But the only Iraqi diplomat in London, Dr Mudhafar Amin, said if the US was determined to mount airstrikes there was little point in re-admitting weapons inspectors.

"What we are hearing now, with the US administration insisting whether we let the inspectors in or we don't, they will attack Iraq and topple the regime and bomb Iraq and invade Iraq," he told BBC Radio 4's PM programme.

"So with that kind of atmosphere, we don't see any sense even letting the inspectors come to Iraq if they are going to bomb Iraq."

On Thursday UK officials sought to play down suggestions of a rift with the United States over military action against Iraq.

A government statement in response to the Commons foreign affairs select committee report said: "Existing UN resolutions require immediate Iraqi compliance, including on weapons inspections.

"The government will nonetheless be giving further consideration to this recommendation."

'Double advantage'

UK officials are thought to doubt that Saddam Hussein would give inspectors unfettered access if a deadline was set.

But a deadline could give some legal cover for military action and might bridge what is now seen as clear water between London and Washington over Iraq.

Ministers have not spelt out what penalty would be imposed if Iraq failed to meet the deadline.

Senior figures in the US administration have claimed that further arms inspections would be pointless and are pushing instead for a regime change in Iraq.

George Bush, US President
George Bush has pushed for Iraq "regime change"
The UK has argued the threat of military action could be lifted if the weapons inspectors were allowed back in.

The government statement on Thursday acknowledged that Iraq would be a "better place" without Saddam Hussein, but stopped short of advocating regime change.

Weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998 complaining that they were not been giving the unconditional access they needed.

Faith in inspections

Iraq accused America of planting spies among that team and has since then refused to readmit weapons inspectors.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the Financial Times newspaper that weapons inspectors had been doing an "increasingly thorough" job when they left in 1998.

"So what I want to do, what we are doing, is putting the ball back in Saddam Hussein's court," he said.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
Straw says the timing of any euro poll will not depend on Iraq action
Mr Straw insisted he was "quite clear" that the UK was being listened to in Washington.

That confidence contrasts with claims from Richard Holbrooke, former American ambassador to the United Nations.

He has told how one of Tony Blair's senior advisers complained the UK was getting nothing in return for its support for the US over Iraq.

Euro timetable

Many commentators see a war against Iraq as one factor that would prevent a possible referendum on the euro taking place next year.

Mr Straw refused to rule out either a poll on the euro or military action.

But he continued: "You're asking me: Is the timing of any referendum on the euro dependent on a 'big if' about military action in Iraq? Well, no."

"Extraneous issues" would not upset the assessment of the five economic tests on the UK joining the Eurozone, he added.

The government has also rejected criticisms that Britain's intelligence agencies - MI6, MI5 and GCHQ - could have done more to avert the 11 September terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

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See also:

28 Aug 02 | Politics
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