- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

LONDON, March 7 (UPI) — British Prime Minister Tony Blair has told a television panel that under certain circumstances he was prepared to ignore "unreasonable" vetoes and go to war without a new mandate from the United Nations.

In the youth interview program set for broadcast Friday on the MTV channel, Blair also suggested time was running short for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to get rid of his weapons of mass destruction because "we can't keep those people (U.S. and British military forces) down there forever."

His remarks to a multinational panel of interviewers aged 16 to 25 were seen as significantly more candid than any the prime minister has made in a series of comments to Parliament on the Iraqi crisis.

Asked whether he would go to war without a new mandate from the U.N. Security Council, Blair replied, "If there was a veto applied by one of the countries, or by countries that I thought were applying the veto unreasonably, then in those circumstances I would."

"But," he added, "We are fighting very hard to get a second resolution through (the Security Council) … I still believe we will get that second resolution. I do not want to go outside the United Nations."

The Daily Telegraph newspaper in London reported Friday that to gain Security Council approval for the second resolution Britain had offered to insert a new clause that would give Iraq a final, 72 hours' warning to surrender its chemical and biological weapons and halt its nuclear weapons program before a military conflict is launched.

Blair noted that hundreds of thousands of American and British troops are already poised in the Gulf, ready to invade Iraq and oust Saddam Hussein. "If we don't act now," he told the MTV panel, "we can't keep those people down there forever."

But his threat to ignore U.N. vetoes appeared to increase the possibility that Washington and London will go it alone in such a war. Of the Security Council's 15 members, five hold veto power and at least two — France and Russia — have strongly indicated they will use that power to stop any resolution authorizing military action.

Blair hinted that Paris and Moscow may have an ulterior motive in using their veto to try to stop the war. Asked whether they were trying to block military action because they have oil interests in Iraq, the prime minister replied, "There are outstanding debts and contracts in respect of France and Russia in Iraq."

But, he quickly added, "I am not saying that is the reason they are taking the position they are taking."

At the same time, he rejected suggestions that war would be in the interests of both Britain and the United States because of Iraq's vast oil reserves. After any conflict, he said, this oil should go into a U.N.-supervised reserve for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

"We don't touch it, and the U.S. don't touch it," Blair said. "We cannot say fairer than that."

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