Weapons inspectors need more time, Blair insists

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair and Jack Straw tried last night to defend the war against Saddam Hussein by claiming that the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) would prove that the dictator had breached UN resolutions demanding full disclosure of his weapons of mass destruction programmes.

But critics such as Robin Cook, a former foreign secretary, said the failure by the ISG to find any actual weapons or chemical and biological agents proved that Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector, should have been given more time before the war.

Speaking in Bournemouth, where the Labour Party has been holding its annual conference, the Prime Minister urged the public to examine carefully all the evidence uncovered by the ISG in Iraq.

Mr Blair stressed the document published last night was only an "interim" report and suggested that the group might have found evidence that would have persuaded the United Nations to back the war.

He told GMTV: "I think people should wait, just wait until you see the report. I say to you they have only been in there two months. This is an interim report and the issue that people should focus on is this: will they disclose evidence that this is a breach of the United Nations resolutions that would have triggered a war with UN support if that information had been before the UN?"

Government sources added that the public would also be impressed by the level of detail in the report about programmes and plans unearthed in the country by the ISG.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, also defended the Government's decision to go to war by repeating his new emphasis this week that Saddam posed a real threat, even though it was not certain whether the threat was imminent or long term.

Mr Straw told a news conference at the Foreign Office in London: "We did talk more broadly about the nature of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. The Prime Minister, I recall, very clearly said he couldn't say whether the threat would arise this week, next week, next year or in five years. But the threat was very clearly there and nothing that I have seen or heard in the months and years since Iraq has been an issue has moved me from that judgement."

The Foreign Secretary said that before hostilities there was "incontrovertible evidence" that Saddam had had chemical and biological weapons programmes.

Mr Cook said the report would prove war was not "justified". He told BBC Radio 4's The World At One: "There was no imminent serious threat from Saddam Hussein which would justify brushing inspectors aside and going straight to war. We did have the extra time because frankly Saddam had nothing with which to threaten us.

"If we had given the UN inspectors that extra time we would now know what the Iraq Survey Group is telling us - which is Saddam Hussein simply did not have any weapons of mass destruction and did not pose a threat to ourselves or indeed to neighbours."

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