BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
    You are in: UK: Politics  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Education
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
 Friday, 10 January, 2003, 13:24 GMT
British doubts about Iraq war
US troops in Germany
US troops are preparing equipment to send to the Gulf

The British Government has softened the tone of its rhetoric on Iraq, and is playing down the idea that war is fast approaching.

The question is whether this is merely a tactical shift, or reflects a more fundamental doubt about the wisdom of military action.

At Thursday's cabinet meeting Prime Minister Tony Blair emphasised the United Nations weapons inspectors had to be given the time and space they needed to do their job.

UN inspectors
The UN inspectors are due to report at the end of January
27 January should not be regarded in any sense as a deadline - that is when the inspection teams will deliver their first substantial report to the Security Council.

British officials said they believed the inspection process remained effective, though how long it continued would depend on whether President Saddam Hussein was complying with last November's Security Council resolution.

Mr Blair's spokesman denied this position amounted to a U-turn.

He also denied Britain was now pressing the United States to delay any war on Iraq for several months at least.

Revolt possible

The most obvious reason for the change of tone is the growing opposition to war at home, notably among members of Mr Blair's own Labour Party.

The political mood in London is shifting: people are getting more dubious about military action unless clear evidence emerges that Iraq is still concealing weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Blair is still convinced that the threat of Saddam Hussein has to be dealt with, by military means if necessary

Exchanges in parliament during the week gave weight to the prospect of a substantial revolt, perhaps extending to the resignation of junior ministers.

That would be more likely if Mr Blair joined Washington in a war without the specific authorisation of a new Security Council resolution.

Another new element came in a speech by the prime minister to a conference in London of more than 150 British ambassadors.

He called on the US to listen to the concerns of the rest of the world on a range of issues - even though he restated his commitment to disarming Iraq.

What is clear is the British Government is responding both to the criticism of its own policy and to a more generalised dislike of the Bush administration.

It wants to show it is at least listening.

Mr Blair also seeks to mark out a different position from Washington on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in order to limit hostility to Britain in the Arab and Muslim world.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair hopes a policy of patience will pay off
That is why he has been trying to organise a limited Middle East conference in London.

But there are limits to all this activity and political manoeuvring.

There is little evidence of a basic change in British policy on Iraq; Mr Blair is still convinced the threat of Saddam Hussein has to be dealt with, by military means if necessary.

There is still everything to play for in the inspection game.

Patience

Although the inspectors say they have so far found no smoking gun, their interim briefing of the Security Council was critical of Iraq.

They said the Iraqis had not produced information to show prohibited weapons from the past had been destroyed, nor had they made a serious effort to provide a full list of scientists who had worked on weapons programmes.

Britain, like the United States, believes that efforts to interview Iraqi experts outside the country may produce either crucial evidence or clear-cut obstruction by Saddam Hussein.

If that turns out to be the case, the policy of allowing the inspectors more time will be vindicated.

Mr Blair hopes the policy of patience, of allowing the inspectors more time, will eventually pay off.


Key stories

UK prepares

UK Forces map

Analysis

IN DEPTH

TALKING POINT
See also:

08 Jan 03 | Health
07 Jan 03 | Politics
07 Jan 03 | Politics
07 Jan 03 | Middle East
06 Jan 03 | UK
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


 E-mail this story to a friend



© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes