Weapons inspectors turn fire on Britain and US  

Rupert Cornwell@IndyVoices
Saturday 21 December 2002 01:00
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George Bush was under intense pressure yesterday to give UN weapons inspectors intelligence data that the US says proves Iraq is lying when it claims to have given up its weapons of mass destruction.

Hours before Mr Bush was to meet the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, and senior Russian and European representatives, Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, delivered a stinging attack on the US and Britain, accusing them of failing to co-operate with his team.

"If the UK and the US are convinced and they say they have evidence, then one would expect they would be able to tell us where is this stuff," Mr Blix said. Asked if he was getting enough co-operation from Western intelligence agencies, he said: "Not yet. We get some, but we don't get all we need."

Mr Blix spoke as inspections moved into a new, more intense phase. The Security Council has asked his team of weapons inspectors to provide a detailed assessment of Iraq's arms declaration on 9 January. Two days ago, Washington declared that omissions in the 12,000-page inventory submitted by Baghdad constituted a "material breach" of its obligations to the UN.

That phrase, in American eyes, clears the way for the use of force, though the Bush administration has indicated it will wait a few weeks before launching an attack. Mr Bush said last night the Iraqi declaration was "a disappointing day for those who long for peace".

Tony Blair told British troops yesterday to prepare for possible military action in Iraq – in an attempt to increase pressure on Saddam Hussein to give up his weapons of mass destruction. In a Christmas message that was broadcast to British forces around the world, the Mr Blair heaped praise on their "amazing" work in the past year but warned them: "I am afraid the expectation is there will be a lot more to do in the upcoming year." The US is doubling its troop strength in the Gulf to 100,000.

Mr Blair said: "When we are dealing with someone like Saddam Hussein, unless you do have the capability to use force if necessary, it is very hard to make the world a more secure and more peaceful place. And sometimes I think the best, indeed the only way, of avoiding war is to be prepared for one if you have to have it."

The first hint of any intelligence sharing came on Thursday when the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, having lambasted Iraq's "total failure" to comply with UN resolution 1441, promised "additional support" that would "make the inspections process ... more targeted and effective".

Britain said it would give UN inspectors details of telephone calls from Iraq that had been intercepted. One senior British official said: "We are giving him [Mr Blix] intelligence and we will be giving him more over the next few weeks."

Mr Blair said Britain would aid the weapons team in its search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. But doubts persist over whether the US and Britain possess the hard evidence they claim to have.

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