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EDITIONS
 Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 20:25 GMT
Hoon attacks 'unhelpful' Straw
Geoff Hoon
Mr Hoon says the use of force is 'not inevitable'
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has described comments by Cabinet colleague Jack Straw on the odds of a war with Iraq as "unhelpful".

This is not a time for scrapping between ministers

Bernard Jenkin, shadow defence secretary
The foreign secretary said it was "reasonably accurate" to suggest that the prospect of war was roughly 60-40 against.

Showing his irritation with Mr Straw's position in a BBC Radio interview, Mr Hoon said: "I don't believe that it helps to make these kinds of comments at this stage."

Earlier in the Commons, the defence secretary announced the call up of more than 1,500 reservists, with further deployments to come, in readiness for a possible war on Iraq.

War 'not inevitable'

The Conservatives criticised the two ministers for "scrapping" while British troops faced the prospect of war.

Shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin said: "This is a serious moment.

"The government have today [Tuesday] announced the largest military deployment since the last Gulf War.

"This is not a time for scrapping between ministers.

"Unfortunately it reveals that there are much deeper divisions about the government's policy towards Iraq.

"The prime minister has failed to carry public opinion, but these splits will simply make matters worse.

Turf war

He added: "The prime minister is right to face down the dictator Saddam Hussein.

Jack Straw
Mr Straw reassured Labour MPs
"The Opposition support his policy and so should Labour Ministers and MPs."

Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, called on Tony Blair to end the turf war.

"This apparent disparity between the foreign secretary and the defence secretary needs to be cleared up as soon as possible," he said.

"The decision to go to war is always a political one, and it is the task of the MoD to provide the armed forces which are necessary."

He added: "It is no part of the MoD's responsibility to undercut the Foreign Office.

"Mr Blair should make sure that there is unanimity in his Cabinet."

Over the weekend, an unnamed Cabinet minister was quoted as saying the chances of conflict had slipped to 60-40 against.

Military preparations

Mr Straw did not name the source when he said on Monday: "That is a reasonably accurate description - but the situation changes from day to day."

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's PM programme, Mr Hoon said preparation work had to go on even if the prospect of war was remote.

"What I have to do as far as my responsibilities in the government are concerned, is to make available military capabilities should they be required.

"Clearly, if the assessment were even very low that military action were required I would still have the responsibility of ensuring we could fulfil those requirements should they be necessary," he told PM.

UK influence

Meanwhile, Tony Blair has underlined his determination to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with US President George Bush as America's "closest ally" in the current crisis over Iraq.

But 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".

Earlier, Mr Straw sought to reassure Labour MPs anxious about the prospect of war, that Britain was still seeking to secure the "peaceful disarmament" of Iraq through UN weapons inspections.

"To achieve our objectives we will act in conformity with international law, including the United Nations Charter and international humanitarian law," he said in a written Commons statement of government policy.


Key stories

UK prepares

UK Forces map

Analysis

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TALKING POINT
See also:

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