The United Nations may be sidelined in the search for Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has suggested.
It will take 'some time' to uncover weapons, says Mr Hoon
Instead, another country outside the coalition - but with the appropriate laboratory facilities to analyse particular chemicals and pre-cursors for nerve agents - could be used, he said.
Mr Hoon said he was not surprised coalition forces had so far failed to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq - the primary reason for going to war.
Saddam Hussein was known to have made "determined efforts" to hide, dismantle and scatter the weapons "around thousands of sites" across Iraq, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
We have always said it is important there should be an independent element of verification, whether that is through the UN or through the assistance of another country
Asked why the dictator had not used them if he had them, Mr Hoon said he did not have time to reassemble the weapons before coalition forces invaded the country.
The defence secretary, who has been on a whistle-stop tour visiting British troops in Iraq and Kuwait, refused to be drawn on whether he thought Hans Blix, the UN's chief weapons inspector, should return to Iraq.
Two former foreign secretaries, Labour's Robin Cook and Conservative Sir Malcolm Rifkind, have called for Dr Blix and his team to check any finds of banned weapons.
Two days ago Dr Blix, who has suggested US officials tried to discredit him before the war, said his teams were ready to return to Iraq at short notice to look for them.
But the White House does not seem keen on the idea, saying the US administration was looking forwards and not backwards.
Mr Hoon told the programme: "We have always said it is important there should be an independent element of verification - whether that is through the UN or through the assistance of another country in the world to provide that verification.
"We have always said there should be an independent element. We have not necessarily specified that that should be the UN.
"There could be other countries who could identify, for example, as a result of chemical analysis, particular chemicals, pre-cursors for nerve agents or gas.
"There are a number of countries who have appropriate laboratory facilities who would be prepared to do the job."
Ran out of time
Mr Hoon insisted that it was "not a question of carving out" the UN.
He said it would take "some time to uncover" Saddam Hussein's WMD.
"I don't believe it is sensible to put a time scale on that. Ultimately, it will be dependent on people coming forward.
"We have knowledge of the whereabouts of WMD and pointing them out and I am confident that that will begin to happen."
Mr Hoon said the Iraqi dictator had not had a chance to use his weapons because of the success of coalition forces in disrupting the regime's central command and control.
We certainly will find weapons of mass destruction - that was the primary reason for invading Iraq and bringing down the regime
"What I am saying is, the weapons of mass destruction remain hidden, as they are hidden to this day, that he did not have the time to recover the weapons from those hiding places to reassemble the missiles and to fire them," he said.
"We certainly will find WMD - that was the primary reason for invading Iraq and bringing down the regime - but at the same time, the beneficial consequences cannot be under-estimated to the people of Iraq."
Coalition forces needed to identify "particular individuals involved" in the weapons programmes "and invite those people to lead us to the hiding places".
Mr Hoon warned that the "remarkable transformation" of Iraq will have dictators "looking over their shoulder".
This had not been a reason for the invasion, "but it is a beneficial side effect of taking coalition action", he said.