- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 4, 2002

LONDON British Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday that Saddam Hussein poses a threat to the world and insisted the United States should not have to act alone in any military operation against the Iraqi leader.
"Iraq poses a real and a unique threat to the security of the region and to the rest of the world," Mr. Blair told a news conference in perhaps the strongest endorsement of regime change in Iraq from any foreign leader.
"This is not just an issue for the U.S. It is an issue for Britain and the wider world."
Mr. Blair, speaking as other foreign leaders pressed for a U.N. role in any decision on Iraq, said Saddam was violating existing U.N. resolutions and continuing "in his efforts to create weapons of mass destruction."
"We cannot have a situation where people turn a blind eye," he said.
He also said Britain will publish evidence of Iraq's development of weapons of mass destruction "within the next few weeks," Agence France-Presse reported.
"A lot of the work has already been done," he told reporters in his parliamentary constituency of Sedgefield, in the northeast of England. "There needs to be some more work, some more checking done."
Echoing U.S. calls for Saddam's removal, Mr. Blair said: "Either the [Iraqi] regime starts to function in an entirely different way or the regime has to change."
For the Bush administration, Mr. Blair's remarks were a welcome change from the chorus of European and other leaders who have urged Washington to exercise restraint against Baghdad.
French President Jacques Chirac has said any military action must be approved by the U.N. Security Council, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder an outspoken critic of an invasion has called on the White House to consult fully with allies on its plans.
Russia has hinted it might use its veto to block any measure for military action against Baghdad that comes up before the Security Council. But in talks Monday with his Iraqi counterpart, Naji Sabri, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov also pressed Baghdad to allow the return of U.N. weapons inspectors.
Mr. Ivanov called the resumption of inspections a "necessary condition" for lifting sanctions.
In Johannesburg, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told the Earth Summit yesterday that Baghdad is ready to discuss a return of weapons inspectors, but only in a broader context of ending sanctions and restoring Iraqi sovereignty over all its territory a stance U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has rejected in the past.
"If you want to find a solution, you have to find a solution for all these matters, not only pick up one certain aspect of it," Mr. Aziz said after meeting with Mr. Annan. "We are ready to find such a solution."
Mr. Aziz insisted Iraq was "ready to cooperate." But he said Iraq wanted U.N. inspectors to come only "for a special mission" not "if they send people who drag their feet for years." He noted the last team of U.N. inspectors stayed for 7 years.
U.N. inspectors charged with confirming the dismantling of Iraq's mass-destruction weapons have been barred from Iraq since 1998.
Britain is one of the United States' strongest allies, but Mr. Blair has barely spoken in public about Iraq in recent weeks. He has come under mounting pressure from the British news media and members of his own governing Labor Party to explain his position.
Facing a barrage of questions from journalists about Britain's position on Iraq, Mr. Blair said inaction was not an option but insisted that no decision had been made on what to do.
"I do believe that the threat posed by the current Iraqi regime is real, I believe that it is in the U.K.'s national interest that this is addressed, just as dealing with the terrorists after September 11 was in our national interest even though the actual terrorist act took place thousands of miles away on the streets of New York, not in London," he said.
"The whole of the international community has a responsibility to deal with this," Mr. Blair said.
"If September 11 teaches us anything, it teaches us that it is wrong to wait until the threat materializes," he said. "These issues are being raised rightly by the United States."
About 160 lawmakers, many members of Mr. Blair's governing Labor Party, have signed a motion cautioning against military action.
Concern is also growing among the British public about participating in any U.S. offensive against Saddam. An ICM poll published this week said 71 percent of voters oppose Britain joining a war against Iraq that lacks U.N. approval.

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