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EDITIONS
 Thursday, 9 January, 2003, 13:15 GMT
'Give UN inspectors time' urges UK
Ark Royal
The Ark Royal is leading the British task force
Tony Blair has cooled expectations of an early decision on war with Iraq by telling Cabinet ministers that UN inspectors must be give "time to do their job".

The prime minister's official spokesman said people had to "be patient" - but rejected reports the UK is urging the US to postpone any conflict with Iraq until November.

That gives the lie to any suggestion that we are taking a different position to the US

Number 10 spokesman
The spokesman said it was important that the 27 January deadline, when inspectors are due to report their findings, should be seen "as a staging post" and not a deadline.

He quoted a Washington Post interview with US secretary of state Colin Powell who said that date was "not D-Day for decision making".

"That gives the lie to any suggestion that we are taking a different position to the US," Mr Blair's spokesman added.

Gone abroad

Earlier this week differences within the Cabinet burst into the open with Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon branding comments by Foreign Secretary Jacks Straw that appeared to downgrade the chances of war with Iraq as "unhelpful".

Iraqi soldier watches UN inspectors
Weapon inspections continue in Iraq
Mr Straw has since embarked on a tour of south-east Asia.

He is due to tell an audience in the world's most populous muslim nation, Indonesia, that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction could be as destructive for muslims as for people in the West.

"The consequences of a failure of nerve to deal with the threat by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are potentially devastating for Muslims and non-Muslims alike."

Ready and waiting?

Mr Straw will also call for an improvement in relations in Islamic/Western relations but that should not stop Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from being disarmed peacefully or by force, Mr Straw will say.

Jack Straw
Mr Straw is touring south east Asia
On Wednesday, Mr Blair dismissed Conservative claims that UK troops are only "half-prepared" for war with Iraq because of mixed messages from the cabinet.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said the prime minister could not expect to convince the public of the need for action against Iraq if he could not persuade his cabinet.

Earlier this week, Mr Straw said the chances of war were 60-40 against, although he stressed the situation was constantly changing.

Mr Hoon's barbed response led to opposition accusations of a "turf war" between the two men.

Mr Blair's official spokesman insisted that he retained confidence in both ministers, describing reports to the contrary as "ludicrous".

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Guto Harri in Westminster
"Tony Blair is saying we need to be patient"
  Helen Jackson, deputy chair Labour Party
"We badly need to ensure there is a clear exit stratgey without military conflict"

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See also:

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