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Last Updated:  Friday, 21 February, 2003, 12:31 GMT
Church Iraq statement 'welcomed'
Archbishops Dr Rowan Williams and Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor
The archbishops recognise burden for decision-makers
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has welcomed the statement on Iraq by leaders of the UK's Catholic and Anglican churches - despite their concerns about the moral case for war.

Mr Straw said he agreed with the archbishops' sentiment that the "moral alternative to military action cannot be inaction".

But he acknowledged that at times of war and peace, people looked for "spiritual guidance".

In their statement, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, archbishop of Westminster and leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, and his Anglican counterpart, Dr Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, said war inevitably brings "a sense of failure".

I think people look to their spiritual leaders at a time like this
Jack Straw

They called for United Nations weapons inspectors to be given more time in Iraq and urged the Iraqis to comply with UN resolutions on weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Straw, who has been having discussions with EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said he could find a "very great deal" to agree with in the archbishops' statement, which he described as "balanced".

"I welcome this statement. I think people look to their spiritual leaders at a time like this and there is no more critical issue before the whole of mankind and never has been than the issue of war and peace.

"As the archbishops said, the moral alternative to military action cannot be inaction, passivity or indifference. We can't be indifferent in the face of 12 years of defiance by Iraq," he said.

'Hunt the thimble'

The foreign secretary said "active discussions" were taking place on a new UN Security Council resolution but stressed that matters were still "not finalised".

He argued that it was not possible for 100 inspectors to conduct a "hunt the thimble exercise" for Iraqi weapons in a country the size of France.

Iraq had to cooperate fully with the inspectors, he said. "It is now up to Iraq after 12 years of defiance and non-compliance to prove that it no longer has these weapons."

London peace march
Recent events 'show doubts persist about morality of war against Iraq'
Mr Straw is set to lay out the "moral case" for disarming Saddam Hussein in a speech in London on Friday.

In it he will stress that without disarmament "Iraq will again use these terrible weapons".

"This is part of the moral case: preventing Iraq launching more wars of aggression; and dealing definitively with a tyrant who breaks international law," Mr Straw will say.

'Act of humanity'

Last weekend, hours before hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest against a possible attack on Iraq, Mr Blair argued what he called "the moral case" for confronting President Saddam Hussein with force.

"Ridding the world of Saddam would be an act of humanity. It is leaving him there that is in truth inhumane," Mr Blair said on Saturday.

But the archbishops said: "The events of recent days show that doubts still persist about the moral legitimacy, as well as the unpredictable humanitarian and political consequences, of a war with Iraq."

They went on, however, to recognise the "huge burden of responsibility" carried by decision-makers.

Vital

They urged all sides to give UN weapons inspectors more time.

"It is vital therefore that all sides in this crisis engage, through the United Nations - fully and urgently - in a process, including continued weapons inspections, that could and should render the trauma and tragedy of war unnecessary," they said.

Two church leaders debate war
The Iraqi regime may have to be disarmed by force to make that peace possible

"We strongly urge the government of Iraq to demonstrate forthwith its unequivocal compliance with UN resolutions on weapons of mass destruction."

It is fairly unusual for the two archbishops to issue joint statements: they decided to do so after a routine private meeting a few days ago.

In a letter to the prime minister, delivered to Downing Street on Thursday morning, the charity Christian Aid echoed concerns about the justification for war with Iraq.

The charity fears there will be "significant chaos and suffering in Iraq long after military strikes have ended".





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The BBC's David Loyn
"It was never going to be easy to persuade the British people to go to war on Iraq"



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