Britain says Iraq must back down over UN inspections

 

The British Prime Minister, Mr Blair, yesterday said that President Saddam Hussein of Iraq must back down in his stand-off with the UN over weapons inspections.

"It is absolutely essential that he back down on this, that he be made to back down," Mr Blair told parliament.

He was speaking ahead of the four-power talks in Geneva.

"We will of course seek a diplomatic solution to it but he has to back down on it. Because if he doesn't back down on it, we will simply face this problem, perhaps in a different and far worse form in a few years time," Mr Blair said.

Britain yesterday gave the go-ahead for six air force Harrier jump jets to join an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean.

"It is a sensible precautionary measure which will help keep all our options open," the Defence Secretary, Mr George Robertson, said.

The aircraft carrier, HMS Invincible, was ordered from the Caribbean last week and was due to arrive in Gibraltar last night.

No decision has been taken yet on it being deployed in the Gulf where Britain already has a frigate, a destroyer and a supply ship.

Six Tornado jets are deployed in Saudi Arabia and another six in Turkey.

Mr Robertson said the inspectors had already found substantial production capabilities, weapons and equipment, including 690 tonnes of chemical agents.

"We know he still has more chemical and biological capabilities in hiding. Iraq still represents a real threat to its neighbours and to the wider Middle East," he said.

Officials said Britain was ready to expand the mix of nationalities among UNSCOM inspectors but this was not a matter that could be negotiated with Iraq.

Britain and the US were ready to "alleviate human suffering" in Iraq through a possible expansion of the UN's oil-for-food deal with Baghdad.

They were also prepared to set down in a clear way exactly what Iraq had to do to comply with UNSCOM's mandate to destroy its weapons of mass destruction.

One official said the goal was to lay out "a clear road map for the Iraqis".

Britain says compliance with UNSCOM would not end all sanctions immediately but would begin the process laid down in past UN Security Council resolutions.