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EDITIONS
 Monday, 6 January, 2003, 12:19 GMT
War with Iraq not inevitable - Straw
Convoy of UN weapons inspectors pass a portrait of Saddam Hussein
The speech comes with a possible Iraq war looming
The chances of a war with Iraq may have fallen, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said.

At the weekend an unnamed government source suggested the prospect of conflict had receded from a 60:40 likelihood of conflict to a 60:40 likelihood of peace.

What's important for people to understand is that war is not inevitable

Jack Straw
Mr Straw refused to name the source but added: "I think that's a reasonably accurate description."

But he warned that the situation with Iraq changed from day to day.

The foreign secretary was speaking ahead of a speech to diplomats in London in which he said al-Qaeda, Iraq and North Korea were "part of the same picture".

Mr Straw told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "What's important for people to understand is that war is not inevitable, that so far every decision has been made explicit by the United Nations."

War down to Saddam?

He said: "That is our preference and the preference of the United States but the final decision about whether these United Nations resolutions are enforced is one for Saddam Hussein.

"It is he that has been in breach of UN resolutions not over eight weeks but over 12 years."

The main focus for Mr Straw's speech was the dangers posed by states with weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Terrorism and rogue regimes are part of the same picture

Jack Straw
He also suggested that countries like Iraq provided the most likely potential source of weapons of mass destruction for terror organisations such as al-Qaeda.

The forum for his speech on foreign policy priorities for the next decade is a two-day conference attended by all but a few of Britain's 150-plus ambassadors.

It is the first time so many have gathered together.

Mr Straw described the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as the greatest threat to national security and to world peace.

"Our overall purpose must be to work for UK interests in a safe, just and prosperous world," Mr Straw is to argue.

'Clear strategy'

"The challenges I have outlined each have the capacity to damage our national interests and to undermine international peace and security.

"If we are to confront them, then we will need a clear strategy."

The foreign secretary cited 11 September as an example of what al-Qaeda could do with WMD.

And so-called rogue states such as Iraq and North Korea provide terrorists with "the most likely sources of technology and know-how", he concluded.

Iraqi soldier watches UN inspectors
Weapon inspections are under way in Iraq
"This is why terrorism and rogue regimes are part of the same picture."

Mr Straw said the government's first priority was to eliminate this threat from both groups.

"Over the next decade, the battle to prevent the spread of the world's most dangerous weapons will be as much about disruption and interdiction of supplies and intelligence sharing, as the application of the international legal framework," he said.

The link being made by the foreign secretary echoes US President George W Bush's "axis of evil" speech, in which he drew a parallel between Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

The US has also claimed a long-standing relationship exists between the dictator and al-Qaeda.

Travel advice

Elsewhere in his address, the foreign secretary paid tribute to the work of British diplomats since the fall of the Berlin wall.

Other issues to be discussed at the conference range from the provision of travel advice to new 'instant embassies' that can be set up in world trouble spots.

Other expected speakers include Prime Minister Tony Blair, International Development Secretary Clare Short and Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram.

Although a first for Britain, countries such as France and Germany hold similar meetings annually.

The Foreign Office's new strategic priorities will be published in full later on Monday.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
"What is important for people to understand is that war is not inevitable"
  The BBC's Branwen Jeffreys
"Jack Straw said war is not inevitable... but that the threat from rogue states is real"

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05 Jan 03 | Middle East
06 Jan 03 | UK
05 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
13 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
15 Dec 02 | Americas
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