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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 17:50 GMT 18:50 UK
Blair to publish Iraq dossier
Tony Blair at the Sedgefield press conference
Tony Blair faced the press in his own constituency
Tony Blair has promised to publish a dossier of evidence against Iraq "in the next few weeks" as he gave his broadest hint yet of support for toppling Saddam Hussein.

Speaking at a special news conference on Tuesday, the UK prime minister said the "real and unique" posed by Iraq had to be tackled - but how to do it was under discussion.

The United States should not have to face this issue alone

Tony Blair

"I believe there is evidence that they will acquire nuclear weapons if they possibly can," he said.

Mr Blair stressed no decisions on military action had been taken but it was in the UK's national interest to confront the problem.

"The United States should not have to face this issue alone, we should face it together," he continued.

'Regime change'

Mr Blair said tackling Iraq's alleged build-up of weapons of mass destruction was the key issue, but he appeared to indicate new support for US talk of "regime change" in Baghdad.
Tariq Aziz, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister
Tariq Aziz has met UN Secretary General Kofi Annan

"You would think from some of the discussion that we are dealing with some benign liberal democracy out in Iraq," he said.

"We are dealing with a regime that routinely tortures and executes its political opponents, that probably was responsible for up to 100,000 Kurdish people dying in a brutal campaign in order to enforce Iraqi rule.

"Either the regime starts to function in an entirely different way, and there hasn't been much sign of that, or the regime has to change.

"That is the choice, very simply."

There was no need for negotiations, said Mr Blair, as Iraq knew perfectly well what it had to do.

"They have a complete and total obligation to let the weapons inspectors back in, any time, any place, anywhere," he said.

'Broad coalition possible'

Mr Blair said it was best to act with the "fullest possible" international support through the United Nations.

But going through the UN should be a way of dealing with the problem, not cited as a reason for avoiding action.

Whatever action took place would be within international law, he argued.


I would never support anything I thought was wrong out of some blind loyalty to the US

Tony Blair

"Vast" amounts of chemical and biological weapons remained unaccounted for, said Mr Blair, and there was real concern that Iraq was trying to gain ballistic missile technology.

Mr Blair's comments in his Sedgefield constituency come as he faces mounting opposition in the UK to an attack on Iraq.

Unease in the Labour Party was underlined when Mr Blair's usually ultra-loyal constituency agent voiced concern about military action.

John Burton told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that people wanted more proof the situation was as dangerous as President Bush argued.

Union leaders and Labour left-wingers have called on the government to publish a dossier of evidence against Iraq and to recall Parliament to discuss any action.

Downing Street has talked of publishing evidence against Iraq before but so far no dossier has appeared.

Public persuasion

Number 10 has refused to say whether Mr Blair has been in touch with President Bush, or whether the two leaders will meet for talks later this month.

The prime minister has been accused by opponents of action of being the president's "lapdog".

Accusing critics of anti-Americanism, he countered: "I would never support anything I thought was wrong out of some blind loyalty to the US."

Nelson Mandela
Mandela has warned action could create chaos
Mr Blair acknowledged some people are totally opposed to action but said many people had "sensible questions" about what could happen.

"I think people will listen to an argument about it," he said. "I don't think their minds are made up."

On Tuesday, shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram welcomed Mr Blair's "strong and positive" message and hoped he could also show the support of his cabinet for action."

But Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell warned that Mr Blair had still to convince a sceptical public.

Earlier, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said his country was is ready to cooperate with the United Nations to find a solution to the crisis.

Mr Aziz said Iraq was taking the threat of a US attack "very seriously" and was getting ready to defend itself.

On Monday former South African president Nelson Mandela and Russian foreign minister Ivan Ivanov also warned against US military action.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"He could not have been more unequivocal"
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Click here to watch the news conference

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See also:

03 Sep 02 | Politics
03 Sep 02 | Politics
03 Sep 02 | Middle East
03 Sep 02 | Politics
02 Sep 02 | Africa
03 Sep 02 | Politics
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