- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2003

LONDON, Jan. 8 (UPI) — High-ranking British officials have been urging that any plans to invade Iraq not be carried out until next autumn so that United Nations weapons inspectors will have plenty of time to conduct a thorough search for weapons of mass destruction, it was reported Thursday.

The Daily Telegraph said some senior members of Prime Minister Tony Blair's government do not believe there is enough clear evidence that Iraq is developing such weapons to justify an invasion in the immediate future, and that an attack during the searing heat of summer would not be practical.

"Nobody familiar with the inspections process expects them to come up with the goods in a matter of weeks," a senior British official told the newspaper.

"There is an assumption that there will be a campaign before the summer because of the heat," the official continued. "The autumn would be just as sensible a time and in the meanwhile, Saddam would be thoroughly constrained by the inspectors."

While a lengthy delay raises the possibility of thousands of U.S. forces being stuck in a sort of brink-of-war limbo for several months, the Telegraph said that support in Parliament for an invasion would fade unless there was concrete proof that Saddam Hussein's regime was producing chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

"The Prime Minister has made it clear that, unless there is a smoking gun, the inspectors have to be given time to keep searching," a senior Whitehall source said.

The sentiment for an autumn campaign has caused some concern that Blair's cabinet is split on the war question, a suspicion that Blair has pointedly denied.

Some government officials told the newspaper that Britain would likely join in an attack whenever the United States decided to launch it, however some were hopeful that the seeming reluctance in London would convince President Bush to allow U.N. inspectors additional time to determine whether or not any weapons of mass destruction exist in Iraq.

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