Kosovo: Blair rejects charge of being Nato's main hawk

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR rejected claims that he was Nato's most "hawkish" leader yesterday but warned that the economic and military campaign against Yugoslavia would be increased until President Slobodan Milosevic backed down.

In a Commons statement on his return from the Nato summit in Washington, the Prime Minister said there was no question of compromise with the Serbian leader over the alliance's demands for restoring peace to Kosovo.

Mr Blair reiterated his stance that although it remained difficult to stage a land force invasion against "undegraded" Serb resistance, Mr Milosevic had no veto over Nato's actions.

To implement Nato's "basic and unalterable demands", its military planners had been told to expand the range of targets for bombing and devise means of enforcing an oil embargo.

Mr Blair told MPs that what had impressed him most at the summit was the need to protect the frontline states surrounding Yugoslavia. He warned that "grave consequences" would follow if Mr Milosevic attempted to destabilise the region. "It is not an aim of military action to remove Milosevic but, while Milosevic remains in power, the security of the region is more difficult," he said.

Tam Dalyell, Labour MP for Linlithgow and a long-standing critic of the Nato action, said: "Some of us are utterly appalled that he should have been the hawk in Washington."

The Prime Minister replied that everyone who believed in Labour principles would feel a "sense of betrayal" if Nato had not acted. "In respect of being a hawk or not a hawk, it's nothing to do with that. Having taken this action, we have got to see it through," he said.

William Hague, the Tory leader, said his party would continue to support the action, hinting that he would back the use of ground troops and that an oil embargo "may well be justified".

Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, suggested Nato may already have "left it too late" to deploy enough ground troops to form a credible land invasion force.