- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

LONDON, Feb. 12 (UPI) — Britain Wednesday dismissed as a "recipe for procrastination and delay" a Franco-German proposal to strengthen the U.N. force of arms inspectors in Iraq and give them more time to look for weapons of mass destruction.

Foreign Minister Jack Straw, lashing out at attempts to drag out the inspectors' mission as a means of putting off war, said "even a thousand-fold increase in (the United Nations') capabilities will not allow us to establish with any degree of confidence that Iraq has disarmed."

Even as his government was confronted with a new opinion poll showing that less than one Briton in 10 would support war against Baghdad without a second U.N. resolution backing military action, Prime Minister Tony Blair suggested the stark alternative to military action was a program of sanctions that could lead to the deaths of thousands of Iraqis.

However, both Blair and Straw appeared to be fighting their own uphill battle for public backing for a war that many see as increasingly inevitable, particularly if a report from the U.N.'s chief inspectors to the Security Council Friday fails to convince London and Washington that Iraq has taken any significant steps toward disarming major weapons.

Straw told the International Institute of Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank, "the final, decisive phased in this long crisis" has begun, yet "the logic (of the Franco-German plan) seems to be that if we allow more time and throw more U.N. personnel at the problem, we will overcome Iraqi intransigence by sheer weight of numbers."

This, he said, "is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of Iraq's obligations," and he questioned how higher numbers could help if Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein maintains his refusal to operate. Iraq is a big country, and "lethal viruses can be produced within an area the size of the average living room."

Blair, who faced a verbal bombardment in Parliament Wednesday, insisted that expanding and lengthening the role of the U.N. inspectors could simply result in another game of "hide and seek," eating up time while Baghdad continues to develop chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons in still-secret laboratories and research areas.

Straw also castigated the refusal by Germany, France and Belgium to promise to help defend fellow NATO member Turkey in the event of an attack from Iraq — a failure, he said, that threatens to undermine the Atlantic alliance itself.

"This is a serious issue," the foreign secretary said. "Inaction in the face of a threat to an ally risks eroding the solemn commitments which underlie the North Atlantic Treaty, and undermining the transatlantic defense relationship which served every (NATO) ally so well during the Cold War …"

Another Western diplomatic source put Britain's unofficial view more succinctly: "France is no longer a major power, Belgium never was and Germany started and lost two world wars."

In Parliament, Blair conceded that if there is a war, "innocent people, as well as the guilty," would die. But "the only alternative," the prime minister said, "is that we keep sanctions in place year on year on year, and … that also is a choice with bad and devastating consequences for the Iraqi people."

War is not a popular prospect in Britain. While Blair himself faces the possibility as up to a half-dozen resignations in his own Cabinet if the nation goes to war without a specific go-ahead from the United Nations, public support for armed conflict is steadily eroding.

A new opinion poll, conducted by the ICM organization for the British Broadcasting Corp. and released Wednesday, said of the 1,000 adults surveyed, 45 percent opposed war under any circumstances. Forty percent said they would back it, if it were backed by a specific resolution from the United Nations.

Nine percent said they would approve of war with Iraq without a U.N. mandate.

Meanwhile, the chief minister of Gibraltar told the BBC in an interview the Iraq crisis was posing a threat to the British colony at the southern tip of Spain. Peter Caruana said Blair's friendship with Spanish Prime Minister Joe Marie Aznar over Iraq could mean a "payoff" for Spain in the shape of shared control with Britain over "The Rock."

Caruana accused Britain of conducting "secret talks" with Spain over joint sovereignty over Gibraltar, despite the colony's recent vote of 99 percent against any control from Madrid.

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