Reuters News on Tuesday, February 25, 2003
Britain’s Tony Blair dismissed on Tuesday a Franco-German plan for peaceful disarmament of Iraq, saying it was “absurd” to think United Nations inspectors could find lethal weapons without Baghdad’s full cooperation.
“The idea that inspectors could conceivably sniff out the weapons and documentation relating to them without the help of Iraqi authorities is absurd,” the prime minister told parliament.
“They are not a detective agency and even if they were Iraq is a country with a land mass roughly the size of France.”
Britain, the United States and Spain have sought U.N. authorization for war against Iraq by introducing a new draft resolution Monday declaring Baghdad had squandered its “final opportunity” to disarm.
France and Germany, backed by Russia, quickly circulated a rival proposal that would extend and beef up U.N. inspections for at least four months.
Blair said a vote on the new resolution was being delayed by a fortnight or more to give Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein one further chance to disarm voluntarily, but he must now cooperate 100 percent.
“It takes no time at all for Saddam to cooperate,” he said. “It just takes a fundamental change of heart.”
The United States and Britain must secure a minimum of nine votes among the 15 council members to pass the new resolution. France, Russia or China could use their veto to kill the draft.
The British premier faces serious domestic opposition if he follows American troops into war without a fresh U.N. mandate. Much of his statement was directed at many in his own party who are bracing to defy him.
“I do not want war,” Blair said. “I do not believe anyone in this house wants war, but disarmament peacefully can only happen with Saddam’s active cooperation.”
He faces a hostile session in parliament Wednesday when it debates a carefully worded government motion supporting the U.N. Security resolution demanding Saddam disarm and Britain’s efforts to achieve that.
Some 60 members of Blair’s Labor Party have signed an amendment stating that “the case for military action against Iraq as yet unproven.” Another 11 are backing a statement which simply says parliament “declines to support war against Iraq.”
Close to one million people demonstrated against war in London earlier this month, and a poll last week showed Blair’s approval rating had plummeted, with 55 percent of people unhappy with his performance.