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 Monday, 13 January, 2003, 19:02 GMT
Blair issues fresh Iraq warning
Tony Blair during his televised news conference
Blair believes the UN would agree to action
Tony Blair says Saddam Hussein will be disarmed of weapons of mass destruction - with or without a second United Nations resolution.

The warning came as the UK prime minister insisted the world had to send a message that trade in chemical and biological weapons would not be tolerated.
There is a direct threat to British national security in the trade in chemical, biological and nuclear weapons

Tony Blair

Mr Blair told his monthly televised news conference he was "quite sure" Iraq has such weapons and that there was the evidence to prove it.

Those weapons posed a "direct threat to British national security", he said.

It was only a matter of time before the problems of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism came together, he said.

Mr Blair told how he received information every day of states trying to get hold of weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Blair was speaking after cabinet minister Clare Short's plea for the British public to make sure the US does not act without United Nations authority.

Ms Short does not want the UK to join any unilateral American military action against Iraq.

The prime minister said he understood public concerns about possible war but argued most people would back action if Iraq defied the UN.

He dismissed any suggestion of cabinet splits as "nonsense".

He said his preference and expectation was for a fresh UN resolution backing military action if Iraq was deemed to have breached UN rules.

But if any country put an "unreasonable or unilateral" block on such resolution, "we have said we can't be in a position where we are confined in that way".

Ark Royal in Scotland on Monday
Aircraft carrier Ark Royal is on route to the Gulf

"However, I do not believe as a matter of fact that will happen."

Mr Blair outlined his confidence in the weapons inspections team and said things would be clearer when the inspectors reported on 27 January.

But he said Iraq had last month made a "false declaration" about its weapons programmes.

Meanwhile, a senior US official has bluntly warned Iraq that if it does not surrender weapons of mass destruction it will face military action.

The head of the US Defense Department policy board, Richard Perle, told BBC News that United Nations inspectors currently scouring Iraq had no chance of finding weapons because they had been hidden.

Those words will increase unease among Labour backbenchers already worried about the prospect of war.

Anti-war Labour MP Alan Simpson said Mr Blair would lose his "democratic mandate and credibility" if he took action without support from the country.

The Stop The War Coalition is planning a new march in London on 15 February.

On Wednesday, Mr Blair will address a private meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, something officials say he always does after the Christmas recess.

British troops have arrived in Kuwait in what is being seen as the first stage in the deployment of a full British army combat brigade in preparation for any war with Iraq.

UN inspectors in Iraq
UN inspectors will report on 27 January
About 20 members of 102 logistics brigade - including its commander - have arrived in the Gulf state to make "contingency plans" for any deployment of frontline troops.

In a statement, a Ministry of Defence said: "It is not a deployment: the team will remain in Kuwait for a couple of weeks, after which on current plans they will return to base."

Conservative shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram applauded Mr Blair for spelling out the Iraqi threat to the UK - something the Tories urged on Sunday.

"If we are going to have to take military action ... then people in this country must know that our forces are fighting to protect British national interests," said Mr Ancram.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell said Mr Blair had deliberately tried to "stiffen the line" after a week where the government looked divided.

Mr Campbell added: "It is disingenuous to say we want to work through the United Nations but only if the UN does what we want to do."

  The BBC's Andrew Marr
"Last week, ministers suggested the odds were against war - it doesn't feel that way now"
  Prime Minister Tony Blair
Watch the news conference
  Hans Blix, UN chief weapons inspector
"I will not tailor any report for a political purpose"

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13 Jan 03 | Politics
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