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Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 17:42 GMT 18:42 UK
Blair's news conference on Iraq
Blair said he would publish a dossier of evidence on Iraq
At the latest in a series of news conferences, Tony Blair set out his position on Iraq.

The UK Prime Minister answered a barrage of questions on the possibility of military action against Iraq.

Below is a digest of the questions and his answers.

Question: Prime Minister, during the course of August, public opinion has apparently moved even further against the idea of a strike and that is partly because people feel there hasn't been much evidence.

We have heard again and again that there is a dossier of evidence about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Why haven't we got it up to now and when are we going to see it?

Tony Blair: Well, I think that's a good point.

The fact is that whatever timelines we've been working on as leaders, if you like, it's clear that the debate has moved on.

Now originally I had the intention that we wouldn't get round to publishing the dossier until we'd actually taken the key decisions.

I think probably it's a better idea to bring that forward.

Saddam Hussein
Saddam is said to be developing nuclear weapons

I mean a lot of the work has already been done.

There needs to be some more work and some more checking done. But I think probably the best thing to do is to publish that within the next few weeks.

And I think that when that happens, people will see that there is no doubt at all the United Nations resolutions that Saddam is in breach of are there for a purpose.

He is, without any question, still trying to develop that chemical, biological - potentially nuclear capability and to allow him to do so without any let or hindrance - just to say, well you can carry on and do it - I think would be irresponsible.

Now as I say, then how you deal with it is another matter.

But I think people will see very clearly both the nature of the regime and that, in addition to the evidence already there from the previous weapons inspections, there is a real and existing threat that we have to deal with.

Prime Minister, Is it wise to deal wise to deal with the question of Iraq and Saddam Hussein's regime while the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is still the concern of the majority of the Arab people?

And are you concerned by this negative media campaign led by certain circles here in the UK and the USA against Saudi Arabia?

Well, you know that Saudi Arabia has been a key partner of the UK and will continue to be so.

And I guess we all suffer from a bit of negative media reaction from time to time.

But that relationship is very strong between Britain, Saudi Arabia and the US, and I believe it will continue so.

The other point that you make, I think is a very sensible point.

They are different issues in the sense that it is important that we deal with the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction and the breach by Saddam Hussein of the United Nations resolutions.

It is important that we deal with that. And that is a separate issue from the issue of the Palestinians. On the other hand, I do totally understand the feelings within the Arab world that the issue of the Middle East peace process, the relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians is a key issue.

Tony Blair
Blair: Saddam's capabilities cannot be underestimated

That's why I've constantly said that we should make every effort to put a proper peace process together and get it moving forward.

I hope very much that we will do that because it is certainly true that many people in the Arab world feel that we must address this issue.

I think there are many people in Israel and many parts of Jewish opinion who also want the issue dealt with.

This is a situation that is tragic for both sides.

So I certainly believe that we should try and push forward as much as we possibly can on the Middle - that is my constant plea and we will do whatever can in order to ensure that because I think the two things are perfectly consistent.

There should be a just solution in the Middle East and we should deal with the weapons of mass destruction.

One of the concerns that unites this very wide coalition concerned about the war is the thought that should go to the UN to seek some sort of mandate before conflicts of any sort take place.

Why can't you give that commitment?

Look, the most important thing is that whatever we do, we do with the broadest possible basis of support.

That's clear. That's what we did in Kosovo, that's what we did in Afghanistan.

We had the international community with us. And obviously it is better to have the international community with us again.

The important thing however, because this is a problem for the world, is that the United Nations has to be a route to deal with this problem not a way of people avoiding dealing with this problem.

After all, it's the United Nations' resolutions that Saddam is in breach of.

And so it makes perfect sense to say that this is an issue for the international community and should be dealt with in that way.

All I'm saying is, it has to be dealt with because we cannot have a situation where people simply turn a blind eye to a situation in which Iraq continues to develop these weapons.

I'll say a bit more about that later.

It's worth at some point just going through for people the history of the last 10 years and then I think we answer the other point that people make perfectly reasonably which is why now is this a really important question.

You spoke in your opening remarks about what comes after Saddam Hussein.

Does that mean that regime change - the removal of Saddam Hussein - is now a British foreign policy aim?

And just specifically on the question of the United Nations, do you believe that as things stand now, without further provocation, Britain would be justified in taking part in a military attack under international law on Iraq?

Well we haven't got to the decisions yet on precisely how we deal with this.

As I said a moment or two ago, be under no doubt at all, we do have to deal with it.

As I said just a moment ago, the best way of dealing with this is with the fullest support of the international community.

The United Nations makes sense for us to deal with it in that way but only if it is the way of dealing with it.

Only if we can make sure that the international community as a whole is prepared to face up to the consequences of the continued breach of its own resolutions - the United Nations' resolutions - and the insistence that Iraq comes into compliance.

Now in relation all these other issues.. in relation to regime change. Look, the key objective for us is to deal with the threat.

What is the threat? The threat is an Iraq that carries on building up chemical, biological, nuclear weapons capability.

Some of the talk about this in the past few weeks, I have to say, has astonished me.

Let's just be clear about the nature of the regime we're dealing with.

You would think from some of the discussion that we're dealing with some benign liberal democracy out in Iraq.

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

We're talking about a regime that was responsible for a million people dying in the Iran/Iraq war, the annexation of Kuwait and that was trying to develop these appalling weapons and indeed actually used these weapons against their own people.

Now the issue is making sure it's not a threat.

And 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. Now that is the choice, very simply.

A series of opinion polls over the summer have shown that opinion against British involvement in any military action against Iraq has hardened considerably.

You say you'll publish a dossier within the next few weeks.

You at the same time appear to be saying there's actually not going to be much new in that dossier.

Can you here today offer one piece of evidence - just one single piece of evidence - that might help convince the 71% of people polled by GMTV and the Daily Mirror earlier this week, that action is necessary.

The one piece of evidence is that there are in breach of 23 of the demands that the UN has made in respect of their weapons - chemical biological and nuclear weapons.

The second piece of evidence is that we know that vast amounts of chemical and biological weapons are unaccounted for.

The third piece of evidence is that every time they haven't been contained they've gone out and attacked people.

The fourth piece of evidence is that they're the only regime I know of anywhere in the world that's actually used these weapons in order to kill thousands of innocent people.

You might think, faced with the threat from America, Britain and elsewhere, he might think there could just be a reason why they're not letting the inspection take place and it might just be that the reason they're not letting the inspection take place is that the last time the inspectors were in there they uncovered so much that the Iraqi regime was deeply embarrassed.

So with the greatest of respect, I think if you went back and started asking people once the evidence is there before people and go back and start asking people again, I think people will say, look if there's any other way of dealing with this, let's deal with it in another way.

But I think you'll find most people are sensible enough to realise that this is an issue that you can't just say 'well we're not bothering with it.'

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

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