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 Thursday, 19 December, 2002, 21:51 GMT
Straw issues fresh warning to Iraq
Iraqi soldiers walk to a military camp as UN weapons inspectors enter a base
Iraq must reveal where weapons are, says Straw
Iraq has failed one key test over weapons inspections and now has its finger on the trigger of war, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has warned.

Mr Straw was speaking after Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix said there was little new information in Iraq's weapons declaration.

The foreign secretary said that failure contravened the latest United Nations Security Council resolution, but was not in itself a "trigger" for war.

Instead it put even more pressure on Saddam Hussein to co-operate with the UN Security Council resolution.

The 12,000-page Iraqi document claims that all weapons and materials have been junked.

Jack Straw
The international community will not blink first, says Straw

Mr Straw said: "Iraq has already failed one test...

"There has already been one trigger pulled. In a sense they now have their finger on the other trigger.

"The choice now, as to whether this issue is resolved peacefully or the international community is forced to solve it by military action, is a choice before Saddam Hussein."

The international community would not "blink first" as Saddam Hussein might hope, he promised.

Mr Straw said war was not inevitable unless and until the UN or its members decided military action was the only way to get Iraq to comply with its obligations.

Weapons inspectors would now intensify their work before producing their full report on 27 January, he predicted.

Past findings

Earlier, Mr Blix said Iraq's dossier contained a "good bit" of information about non-arms related activities.

But there was "not much information about the weapons", he said before delivering his official report to the UN Security Council.

What was missing was evidence that weapons that were known to exist in the 1990s had really been destroyed, said Mr Blix.

HMS Ark Royal
The Ark Royal is sailing towards the Gulf next month
US Secretary of State Colin Powell said the declaration "completely failed" to meet the UN resolution.

Every day that Iraq continued to defy the resolution brought closer "serious consequences", threatened Mr Powell.

Anti-war Labour MP Tam Dalyell argued America was trying to lead Britain and Turkey into war as soon as possible.

"The haste of the British gang is derived from their realisation of falling support at home," he said.

War preparations

But Conservative shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram said mixed messages from the UN could give dangerous wrong signals to Iraq.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell said Dr Blix had shown he certainly was not a "soft touch".

The comments from the US and UK, however, had reassured those who feared there would be some kind of "unilateral effort" over the declaration, said Mr Campbell.

Earlier, Mr Straw said he understood public "anxieties" about going to war with Iraq "because innocent people get killed" and it was the action of "last resort".

As he spoke, Britain was stepping up preparations for a possible war with Iraq.

The aircraft carrier Ark Royal is to lead a naval taskforce sailing towards the Gulf next month, on their way to "long-planned" exercises in the Indian Ocean.

Contingency plans are in place to divert the vessels for war with Iraq if necessary, according to the Ministry of Defence.

A first order for a ship to carry military supplies to the Gulf has also been placed by the MoD, although one union has warned there is a shortage of merchant ships.

The government says it will consider sending extra naval resources to the Gulf in the new year if needed.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon says a standby fleet of ships is being established, orders of specialised desert equipment being speeded up and some troop units being put on shorter notice to move.

The UK's most senior military chief said troops were frustrated they did not know what they would be doing.

Admiral Sir Michael Boyce said: "You always want to know exactly where you are heading so you can actually do proper planning for it."

  The BBC's Ian Pannell
"Iraq is not top of the nation's priorities"

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See also:

19 Dec 02 | Americas
19 Dec 02 | Politics
19 Dec 02 | Politics
15 Dec 02 | Middle East
17 Dec 02 | Politics
05 Aug 02 | UK
18 Dec 02 | Americas
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