Britain believes the deadly poison ricin is being manufactured in Iraq and sent around the world, Tony Blair said yesterday as he made a televised appeal for public support of the Government's stance against Saddam Hussein.
The Prime Minister made his explicit link between the al-Qa'ida network – which has been blamed for a makeshift poison-producing laboratory discovered in London last month – and President Saddam's regime as he admitted he faced an uphill struggle to win over sceptical voters to military action. He said: "The poison factory in northern Iraq not strictly under the control of Saddam is run by operatives that have people in Baghdad and stuff that they are producing, that includes ricin and other poisons, we believe is being dispersed around the world.
"I'm not sitting here and saying that is why we are taking action against Saddam. It isn't, but it would not be correct to say there is no evidence linking al-Qa'ida and Iraq."
In a tense 50-minute televised debate on Iraq, Mr Blair acknowledged that the public would not back military action without a second resolution from the United Nations Security Council. The Prime Minister told the BBC2 Newsnight special: "I think if there were a second UN resolution then I think people would be behind me. I think if there's not then there's a lot of persuading to do."
But, shrugging off accusations that he was the "poodle" of President Bush, Mr Blair insisted he would not commit British forces to war unless he was convinced it was right.
Mr Blair, facing an invited audience opposed to war, insisted that the combination of a condemnation by UN weapons inspectors, the backing of the majority of the Security Council and the support of Parliament would swing the British public. His reference to a majority of the Council was an explicit acknowledgement that the Government expects some of the 15 members to oppose military action.
Mr Blair's claim of the existence of a terrorist ricin factory in Iraq comes a day after the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, insisted that events such as the discovery of the poison in Wood Green, north London, and the murder of the Special Branch officer Stephen Oake were linked to the Iraqi regime.
Mr Blair said: "I have never said Iraq is about to launch an attack on Britain, but there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein is a threat to his region.
"If he was to use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in the rest of his region there is no way Britain could stand aside from that."
He insisted that Britain's aim was the "disarmament of Iraq of the weapons of mass destruction".
The Newsnight debate
Jeremy Paxman: Right now there is no danger; it is a danger some time in the future?
Tony Blair: I have never said Iraq is about to launch an attack on Britain, but if you look at the history of Saddam Hussein, there is absolutely no doubt at all he poses a threat. If he was to use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in the rest of his region, there is no way Britain could stand aside from that.
Questioner: What are we going to accomplish with war?
Blair: Disarmament of Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.
Questioner: And then we move around the world?
Blair: No, we don't move around the world creating war on everyone. What we do do is we do confront those countries that have this material. I think if there were a second UN resolution then I think people would be behind me. If not, there's a lot of persuading to do.
Questioner: Everybody I have spoken to opposes what's happening at the moment.
Blair: Supposing there were a second resolution then. Would that make a difference?
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies