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EDITIONS
Thursday, 6 February, 2003, 22:56 GMT
'I can win support for war' - Blair
Tony Blair and Jeremy Paxman
Mr Blair was interviewed by the BBC's Jeremy Paxman
Tony Blair has said he believes that a second UN resolution might be enough to swing public opinion in favour of war with Iraq.

In an interview with the BBC's Newsnight programme, the prime minister insisted the course he was taking over Saddam Hussein's regime was right, although he conceded that it was not easy.

I think if there were a second UN resolution then I think people would be behind me

Tony Blair
Mr Blair was speaking within hours of talks with chief United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix and the head of the Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei.

They told him that Iraq must "drastically" change its behaviour in order to meet UN demands.

The meeting came as politicians and diplomats around the world consider the latest evidence put forward by the United States to support its claims that Iraq is defying demands to disarm.

But if the audience of members of the public Mr Blair faced for Thursday's Newsnight is indicative, it is clear that he still has an uphill struggle to convince the British people about the need for war.

"I think if there were a second UN resolution then I think people would be behind me," Mr Blair said under questioning from the audience.

"I think if there's not then there's a lot of persuading to do."

MP for Texas North?

Mr Blair was asked if he was prepared to go to war if it went against public opinion.

He said that if the UN inspectors said that Saddam would not co-operate and a majority of countries on the Security Council backed action as well as the British Parliament, that would "make a difference to people".

A jibe by one of the audience that the prime minister was the "member for Texas North" prompted Mr Blair to defend himself against accusations of being US President George W Bush's "poodle" - or US foreign minister as Nelson Mandela had put it.

"I have huge respect for Nelson Mandela but I don't feel that I am doing the wrong thing - it may not be the easy thing but I do believe I am doing the right thing," he said.

Message

On Wednesday Secretary of State Colin Powell presented tape recordings, satellite photographs and intelligence data showing Baghdad's "evasion and deception" in the face of UN weapons inspections.

But it has been rejected by Iraq as an attempt to sell the idea of war without any moral or legal justification.

Leaving the talks with Mr Blair, Mr Blix said Iraq continued to co-operate on the "process" of the inspections, such as granting access.

But he said the Iraqis were still failing either to present forbidden items to be destroyed or show evidence they had been destroyed already.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi met Jack Straw on Thursday
"I hope at this later hour they will come to a positive response," he said.

He warned that without more co-operation, the inspectors would not be able to deliver the report they wanted at the Security Council on 14 February.

Mr ElBaradei, who says war is not inevitable, said their visit to Baghdad this weekend was crucial.

"The message coming from the Security Council is very clear: that Iraq is not co-operating fully, that they need to show drastic change in terms of co-operation," he said.

Maintaining pressure

In a further development, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon announced another 100 RAF planes are to be sent to the Gulf region ready for action.

He told MPs 7,000 extra personnel are to be deployed, bringing the UK's overall contribution to 42,000.

Mr Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw also held talks on Thursday with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi.

Iran has been identified by President Bush as part of an "axis of evil" alongside Iraq and North Korea.

On Wednesday, Mr Straw gave Saddam Hussein an effective deadline of 14 February to show he will co-operate with UN demands to disarm.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Kevin Maguire of The Guardian
"By the end he looked fairly frazzled"
Tony Blair's Newsnight interview point by point

The BBC's Andrew Marr
"The Prime Minister faced voters who are deeply suspicious of his Iraq policy"

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See also:

06 Feb 03 | Middle East
05 Feb 03 | Politics
04 Feb 03 | Middle East
05 Feb 03 | Middle East
06 Feb 03 | Politics
06 Feb 03 | Middle East
06 Feb 03 | Middle East
06 Feb 03 | Politics
06 Feb 03 | Middle East
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