UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says he remains hopeful that weapons of mass destruction will be found in Iraq despite a Bush administration source alleging that none have yet been uncovered.
Teams of UN weapons inspectors were sent to Iraq before the war
Mr Straw argued that just because it had been "difficult to obtain physical evidence... does not mean the evidence is not there".
He admitted that the security situation in Iraq "was worse than we anticipated" and disclosed that "a range of options" other than military intervention had been considered by the government in the moments leading up to war.
The foreign secretary was speaking just hours after a source told Andrew Neil, the presenter of BBC television's Daily Politics show, that the Iraq Survey Group, tasked with looking for WMD, had failed to find even "minute amounts of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons material".
Downing Street branded the story "speculation about an unfinished draft of an interim report".
Mr Neil said the draft report - which the source said is due to be published next month - concludes that it is highly unlikely that weapons of mass destruction were shipped out of the country to places like Syria before the US-led war on Iraq.
It will also say that Saddam Hussein mounted a huge programme to deceive and hinder the work of United Nations weapons inspectors, he said.
They have also not uncovered any laboratories involved in deploying weapons of mass destruction and no delivery systems for the weapons.
But, Mr Neil added, the report would publish computer programmes, files, pictures and paperwork which it says shows that Saddam Hussein's regime was attempting to develop a weapons of mass destruction programme.
Mr Straw said while he had not seen this report, he had seen "various abstracts" and "summaries", and he urged people to await its publication.
Security situation in Iraq 'worse than anticipated'
Asked by BBC Radio 4's Today programme if he expected evidence of WMD to be found, he said: "I hope so. What I know for certain is the nature of the evidence that was before the security council and the world six months ago."
Mr Straw was confident MPs would still have backed a military campaign knowing what they knew now, adding:
"Ministers and others were not dragged kicking and screaming into the lobbies."
He said the war "was justified then and it's justified now".
"I say to anybody who is concerned about this, just think for a moment. What position the world would have been in and the Iraqi people would have been in had we failed to take action at that critical moment?"
Mr Straw said if action had not been taken, the authority of the UN would have been "gravely weakened", the Iraqi people would have "suffered grievously" because Saddam Hussein would have "re-established his reign of terror" and security and stability in the region "would have been made worse".
"That was and is and remains the alternatives that we faced," he said.
IRAQ SURVEY GROUP
Took over WMD hunt from the US military in June
Using intelligence to build picture of Iraqi weapons programmes
Led by US general, but has some UK and Australian staff
1,400 staff include former UN weapons inspectors
Mr Straw was then pressed to say whether he had urged the prime minister in spring to consider that Britain's position might be better served by giving moral support to US, but not troops until after an invasion had been successful.
The foreign secretary replied: "Not in those terms Without going into detail of minutes I may or may not have written to the prime minister.
"It's no great secret that in early March we had to look at a range of options that were available to the UK government, but I was always clear that if there was support in the House of Commons and the parliamentary party for military action against Iraq should we judge that Iraq was going to stay in defiance of UN resolutions then that was the appropriate course."
Mr Straw said the government was now working on an "exit strategy" from Iraq, adding that the "security situation in Iraq is worse than we anticipated".