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EDITIONS
 Friday, 24 January, 2003, 01:54 GMT
Case for Iraq war 'not made' - Clarke
Colchester paratroopers training
The government insists war is still not "inevitable"
Former Tory leadership contender Kenneth Clarke has said he is "not persuaded" about the case for war with Iraq.

Mr Clarke said he was worried Washington had taken the decision to go to war months ago.

His comments came as Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was returning from talks in Washington with US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Clarke: not persuaded by case for war
Mr Straw is still insisting war can be avoided if Iraq proves it does not have weapons of mass destruction.

However, Mr Clarke, speaking on BBC One's Question Time programme, said he felt it was a done deal.

He said: "I have the feeling there's a little blue pencil around a date sometime before it gets too hot in Iraq."

Mr Clarke said the UK and the US were now putting "hundreds of thousands of people in position" for a war in the Gulf, adding it was not likely they would just be brought back.

Alluding to Britain's relationship with the US, he said it was not for the UK "to be the 51st state" and added he thought "middle England" had not yet been convinced that attacking Iraq was justified.

Despite his scepticism, however, the former chancellor said he was "open to persuasion" about the case for military action.

'Avoid conflict'

Both the UK and US Governments continue to say they will not pre-judge next week's key report to the UN Security Council by chief weapons inspector Hans Blix.

But American Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz has already said there is evidence of bullying, intimidation and death threats.

UK troops in the Gulf
Royal Navy Task Group has set sail
Personnel include Royal Marines from 3 Commando Brigade
Headquarters 1 (UK) Armoured Division
Support from the Desert Rats
16 Air Assault Brigade
102 Logistics Brigade
120 Challenger tanks
150 Warrior armoured personnel carriers

He said there was a "powerful case" President Saddam Hussein had ordered the killing of scientists co-operating with UN inspectors.

America's tough stance comes as other key members of the Security Council continued to voice opposition to an American-led war.

China said it was "worried and uneasy" , while France and Germany continue to call for everything possible be done to avoid conflict.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has also told President George W Bush that the inspectors' report - due on 27 January - should be the key to deciding future actions on Iraq.

Reports are also increasing of the US administration preparing for conflict "within weeks".

"Months is a banned word now," a European official told Friday's Guardian.

Such comments will only increase unease amongst anti-war Labour MPs.

Halifax MP Alice Mahon has accused the government of "dishonesty and cowardice", claiming Prime Minister Tony Blair has already pledged support for US-led military action.

Her fears were echoed by former Armed Forces Minister Doug Henderson, who urged ministers to listen to the public, get back to containing Iraq or stick with the United Nations.

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  ON THIS STORY
  Tory MP Kenneth Clarke speaking on Question Time
"I'm not persuaded that there's sufficient cause for going to war"

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See also:

23 Jan 03 | Middle East
22 Jan 03 | Politics
23 Jan 03 | Americas
21 Jan 03 | Politics
21 Jan 03 | Middle East
21 Jan 03 | Politics
22 Jan 03 | Europe
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