Blair rejects Tory call for action on Iraq

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Tony Blair rejected calls from Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative leader, for new international pressure on Saddam Hussein yesterday, and distanced Britain from American demands to widen the war against terrorism to Iraq.

The Prime Minister, speaking after an Anglo-French summit in London, said: "The military action is focussed on Afghanistan. We've not finished that action yet. What is important is that we should complete it militarily." He said that the terrorist network in Afghanistan still had to be closed down properly and "other issues" could be discussed later.

British Government sources said Britain and France agreed that action should only be taken outside Afghanistan if there was "incontrovertible evidence" of another country's involvement in terrorism.

Earlier Mr Duncan Smith dismissed claims that steps against Iraq would split the delicate anti-terrorism coalition put together by President George Bush.

Mr Duncan Smith was in Washington for his first foreign trip since being elected Tory leader in September. He held talks with senior US administration officials including the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, and the National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, as well as Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Defence Secretary and a leading advocate of military strikes against Baghdad.

Mr Duncan Smith said: "Iraq has clearly been involved in a whole series of activities." A top priority of his discussions was to learn the American assessment of the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons threat posed by Iraq.

If Iraq had used the three-year absence of United Nations inspectors to develop weapons of mass destruction, "then we need a clear course of action graded up to military action", he said. He insisted that this would not necessarily fracture the coalition.

Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, poured cold water on speculation that America was about to make a military move against Iraq. "This sort of suggestion that something is on the verge of happening has no particular underpinning substance to it," he said.