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 Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 07:22 GMT
UK attacks Iraq's weapons 'charade'
Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein is warned 'time is running out'
Iraq has made a charade out of the United Nations weapons inspections and its time has almost run out, says Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Speaking after chief weapons inspectors reported to the UN Security Council, Mr Straw said the situation was now "very serious indeed".

Saddam Hussein is practising concealment.

Jack Straw
Foreign Secretary
President Saddam Hussein was still hiding his weapons programmes after 12 years of defying UN resolutions and had a last chance to disarm, said Mr Straw

Chief weapons inspector Dr Hans Blix told the security council Iraq had given inspectors access to important sites but not cooperated "on substance".

Key questions, including those about VX nerve agent and anthrax production, remained unresolved, said Dr Blix.

Co-operation fears

Mr Straw gave his reaction after agreeing a new warning to Saddam Hussein about the need to disarm with European Union leaders in Brussels.

He said: "Saddam Hussein is not engaged in effective co-operation with the weapons inspectors, or the UN but is practising concealment.

"There is clear evidence that Saddam has made this a charade of an inspection, cooperating on process but not on substance."

Jack Straw (right) with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana
Jack Straw took his case to EU leaders on Monday
Asked if the reports meant there was a material breach of the latest UN resolution on Iraq, Mr Straw said the UN would be looking at the detail.

"No one should be in any doubt that what this represents is something very serious indeed," he said.

On Tuesday, two Labour MPs are tabling a motion against war with Iraq on the party's national executive.

One of them, Mark Seddon, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "This would persuade Tony Blair he has to sit down and start negotiating really.

"The opposition in the country to this war is so profound that this marrying to a very right-wing, hawkish, Republican administration is seen by many people as very dangerous."

These few months would be a valuable investment in peace

Mohammed ElBaradei
International Atomic Energy Agency
Following the inspectors' report, the UK's ambassador to the UN, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, said the reports showed Iraq had to change its attitude away from "passive-partial" co-operation.

Sir Jeremy said, however, the UK would back a German request for another inspectors' report on 14 February.

Mr Blair will discuss the reports when he meets US President George W Bush later this week.

Iraq insists it has co-operated fully and is willing to discuss any remaining issues with Dr Blix.

In what was seen as an appeal for more time, Dr Blix said proof not presumptions would resolve whether Iraq had banned substances.

Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said no banned nuclear activity had been discovered.

UN weapons chief inspector Hans Blix
Blix: Key questions must be answered
He argued a few months more of inspections could "provide credible assurance that Iraq has no nuclear weapons programme".

"These few months would be a valuable investment in peace," said Mr ElBaradei.

The two inspection chiefs are now to be questioned in closed session of the security council.

The council will debate the crisis on Wednesday, again behind closed doors.

Attitude change

Conservative shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram said a peaceful resolution to the crisis would only come if Iraq changed its tone and began to cooperate, he argued.

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith has meanwhile urged Tony Blair to do "whatever it takes" to show the public it is in British interests to disarm Iraq.

As part of the government persuasion drive, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon held a question-and-answer session with Labour Party members from Lambeth, London.

The US says the inspection reports show "Iraq has an active programme of denial and deception".

But Labour MP Alan Simpson said both the inspection chiefs had been forthright in making a "compelling case" for more time, not troops.

'Smoking gun unnecessary'

That demand for inspectors to be given more time was echoed by Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell.

Earlier, Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said it was "now up to Saddam to prove his innocence".

Mr Blair discussed the Iraq crisis in a 25-minute telephone call with Russian president Vladimir Putin on Monday.

A spokesman for the Russian leader said he had told Mr Blair weapons inspectors must be allowed to continue with their work.

  The BBC's Mark Mardell
"Jack Straw is trying to reinject a sense of urgency into this matter"
  Prime Minister Tony Blair
"War is not inevitable"

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