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Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 18:08 GMT
Blair warning over terror threat
Tony Blair and George Bush
Mr Blair says the US will remain the UK's closest ally
Tony Blair has issued a stark warning of the "real and present" threat posed to global security by international terrorists.

If the US acts alone, they are unilateralist, but if they want allies, people shuffle to the back

Tony Blair
The prime minister said the arrest of six people in London after the discovery of traces of the lethal toxin ricin underlined the threat from international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

He said it was "only a matter of time" before terrorists achieved nuclear capability.

Mr Blair's warning came as the UK announced the call up of 1,500 army reservists, with further deployments to follow, in readiness for possible war with Iraq.

'Listen back'

In a keynote speech on UK foreign policy, Mr Blair repeated his determination to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with United States President George Bush over Iraq.

But he also urged the US to broaden its global agenda and "listen back" to international opinion.

He said the price of UK influence in the White House was not that "we have obediently to do whatever the US asks".

And he promised he would never commit British troops to a war he thought was "wrong and unnecessary".

Mr Blair is under pressure from his own Labour MPs to justify support for US-led military action to topple Saddam Hussein.

Danger

In his speech, the prime minister repeated his belief that weapons of mass destruction were the "key issue" facing the world today.

"The arrests that were made earlier today (Tuesday) show this danger is present and real and with us now and its potential is huge," Mr Blair told delegates.

But Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy warned later over using the threat of terrorist attacks in the UK to justify a military build-up in the Gulf.

He said the issues should be treated separately.

Mr Blair highlighted recent revelations about North Korea's wepaons programme, to illustrate the potential dangers.

Although these should not be allowed to distract from action over Iraq, Mr Blair said, "the growing number of unstable or dictatorial states trying to acquire nuclear capability" from North Korea posed "a real, active threat to our security."

"And I warn people: It is only a matter of time before terrorists get hold of it," he added.

'Clear signal'

Mr Blair said: "So when, as with Iraq, the international community through the UN makes a demand on a regime to disarm itself of weapons of mass destruction and that regime refuses, that regime threatens us.

"Unless the world takes a stand on this issue of weapons of mass destruction and sends out a clear signal, we will rue the consequences of our weakness.

"America should not be forced to take this issue on alone. We should all be part of it."

Broadening US agenda

He added: "We should remain the closest ally of the US, and as allies, influence them to continue broadening their agenda.

"We are the ally of the US not because they are powerful, but because we share their values."

Describing anti-Americanism as "a foolish indulgence", he said even those countries critical of the US wished they had the same relationship with the White House as the UK.

Iraqi soldier watches UN inspectors
Weapon inspections are under way in Iraq
But he said Britain should use its alliance with the US "to good effect" by urging greater engagement with world opinion.

People listened to the US on international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, Mr Blair argued, "and may well agree with them".

But "they want the US to listen back" on issues such as the Middle East peace process, global poverty, global warming and the United Nations.

'Difficult issues'

The US decision to go through the UN over Iraq was "a symbol of its desire to work with others," he said.

And he criticised nations who know the US should confront difficult issues "but want the luxury of criticising them for it".

"So if the US acts alone, they are unilateralist, but if they want allies, people shuffle to the back," Mr Blair told diplomats.

Mr Blair also repeated his message that Britain should be at the heart of Europe and urged greater engagement with Russia, China and India.

He said Britain should remain Japan's "principal partner within Europe".

Naval task force

Speaking earlier in the Commons, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon announced a naval task force, including flagship aircraft carrier Ark Royal, is to set sail on a deployment that will take it to the Gulf.

Meanwhile, anti-terrorist police are questioning six men after finding traces of the highly toxic poison ricin at an address in London.

They were arrested, along with a woman, on Sunday morning at houses in North and East London by officers from the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist Branch.

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The BBC's Andrew Marr
"The Labour Party and Whitehall are already divided"

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See also:

07 Jan 03 | Politics
07 Jan 03 | Middle East
07 Jan 03 | Politics
06 Jan 03 | UK
07 Jan 03 | Politics
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