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Last Updated: Monday, 21 April, 2003, 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK
'Role for UN' in Iraq arms hunt
Seized conventional weapons
Only conventional weapons have been found
UN weapons inspectors could be used to "independently verify" any finds of banned weapons in Iraq, a UK minister says.

There is growing pressure on the government to back up allegations Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) with a conclusive find, the "smoking gun".

Defence minister Lewis Moonie rejected calls for an inquiry into whether MPs were misled about intelligence on biological and chemical weapons in Iraq.

But Foreign Office minister Mike O'Brien has said the UN will be allowed to investigate any arms finds.

"We need to have some element of independent verification," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"We are talking to the Americans, other allies and the UN about how verification can be carried out.

Progress is bound to be slow
Mike O'Brien
Foreign Office minister

"We are ready to operate under Nato procedures.

"We will send samples of material we find to laboratories to properly analyse under independent verification techniques."

But coalition forces are likely to lead the search for weapons in Iraq.

It was "absolute fact" there were weapons hidden in Iraq, Mr O'Brien said.

"The suspected presence of WMD is at the heart of our reasons for taking military action against the Iraqi regime.

"And removing WMD is a key military objective and integral to UN resolution 1441.

"Coalition forces have a range of specialist plans and capabilities for identifying, surveying and securing sites where WMD have been developed, manufactured or used."

Pre-war intelligence

But Mr O'Brien added British and American forces have visited fewer than a dozen sites of the 146 identified as needing examination

"Progress is bound to be slow."

Mr O'Brien also dismissed calls for an inquiry into pre-war intelligence.

"Saddam has been hiding this stuff.

"All these demands for investigations and things are more than a little premature."

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