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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 July, 2003, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
Blair dismisses Iraq weapons doubts
Tony Blair during Tuesday's questions session
Tony Blair said there was no secret timetable agreed with George Bush

Tony Blair says he stands "totally" by the case he made for removing Saddam Hussein in the run-up to war against Iraq.

The prime minister was quizzed about how he used intelligence in the run-up to war during a two-and-a-half hour session before a "super-committee" made up of the MPs who chair Parliament's select committees.

Much of the questioning focused on the findings of Monday's foreign affairs committee report, which said "the jury is still out" on whether the assessment of the threat from Iraq ahead of the war was accurate.

Pressed about this finding, Mr Blair said: "For me, the jury is not out at all."

Asked if he regretted anything done in the lead-up to the war, he pointed to the way an academic thesis had been used without attribution in February's "dodgy dossier".

I have absolutely no doubt at all that we will find evidence of weapons of mass destruction programmes
Tony Blair

Concerns were raised too that the claim that Iraq could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes was given too much prominence in a government dossier published in September 2002.

Mr Blair said he did not concede at all that the intelligence at the time was wrong.

He stressed that MPs - in a split decision - had cleared Downing Street press chief Alastair Campbell of inserting the 45 minute claim into the dossier.

At the outset of the House of Commons liaison committee hearing, Mr Blair said: "I stand by that case totally. I am quite sure we did the right thing in removing Saddam Hussein.

"I am quite sure we did the right thing because not merely was it a threat to the region and the wider world, but it was an appalling regime which the world is well rid of...

"I refute any suggestion that we misled Parliament and the people totally."

'No secret deal'

He went on: "I have absolutely no doubt at all that we will find evidence of weapons of mass destruction programmes."

Mr Blair was urged to apologise to Parliament for inadvertently misrepresenting the "dodgy dossier" in Parliament by suggesting it was "further intelligence".

Reaction to influential Commons committee's report on Iraq weapons row.

Mr Blair said the government had already said sorry for that mistake but he argued the thesis had been used only for one part of the dossier and the information had been accurate.

He also branded as "completely and totally untrue" former cabinet minister Clare Short's claim that he had set a timetable for war with US President George Bush last September.

And he countered claims that an entourage of advisers in Downing Street made key decisions on Iraq: "The idea that you get together a couple of people in your office over a cup of coffee and decide to take the country to war is far-fetched."

Time appeal

In the wake of recent attacks on coalition troops in Iraq, Conservative MP Edward Leigh asked whether Mr Blair feared the UK could be locked into a "neo-colonial situation" with little hope of proper democracy.

Stressing that the conflict only ended less than three months ago, Mr Blair said: "Let's get a sense here of the size of the task."

Troop deaths were a tragedy and the security situation difficult, but it was being stabilised.

Foreign Affairs Committee report: The Decision to go to War in Iraq
MPs' report raised questions over 45 minute claim

Earlier on Tuesday Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said the Iraq Survey Group now looking for banned Iraqi weapons needed time to do its job.

"Saddam Hussein had at least seven months in which to hide weapons of mass destruction," said Mr Hoon.

Mr Hoon said intelligence chiefs had assessed the 45 minute claim as reliable and then gave approval to it being included in the dossier.

But he refused to say whether or not the intelligence chiefs had also approved the prominence given to the claim in the final dossier, saying the document was produced with intelligence chiefs' "full agreement".

The hearing on Tuesday came as a poll in the Times suggested public support for the war in Iraq had fallen to 47% from 58% last month.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats say only a fully independent judicial inquiry can restore public trust.

Speaking about the "dodgy dossier", shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram said: "Mr Blair should wake up to the fact that this is a serious matter, end his cavalier approach, and apologise to Parliament and the British people."

And Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy said: "When you look at the lengthy question and answers and discussions that have taken place, the central questions remain unanswered."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Mark Mardell
"He [Mr Blair] was in no mood to apologise for anything"



SEE ALSO:
Bush 'warned over uranium claim'
08 Jul 03  |  Americas


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