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Prime Minister Blair's Statement to Parliamen

Prime Minister Blair's Statement to Parliament

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has given a statement to Parliament following his summit with President Bush in Washington. Source: FCO, London, February 3, 2003.

Mr Speaker, can I first tell the House that I have sent messages of condolence to President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon following the break-up of the Columbia space shuttle on Saturday. This was a tragedy not just for the seven astronauts and their families, but for their countries, and for all who value space exploration. I'm sure the whole House would want to join me in expressing our sadness and sympathy.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on my visit to Washington.

In addition to Iraq, President Bush and I discussed the MEPP, Afghanistan and global poverty and development. On the first we agreed on the vital necessity of making progress based on the twin state solution; Israel, confident of its own security; a Palestinian state that is viable. I am convinced there is now a real wish across the world to push this process forward and I hope we can take further steps on this issue soon. I believe it is of fundamental importance not just to peace in the Middle East but to the peace of the world.

But the immediate focus of the visit was Iraq. Over the last week, in addition to meeting President Bush, I have seen Prime Minister Aznar, President Mbeki, Prime Minister Berlusconi and Prince Saud. Today, I have spoken to President Chirac. After this Statement, I will be speaking to President Putin and I have also spoken to the Prime Ministers of Turkey, Canada, Greece, Poland, Portugal and Australia. I shall meet President Chirac tomorrow. In addition, my Right Honourable Friend the Foreign Secretary is in regular contact with his opposite numbers from countries on the UN Security Council, in the European Union and in the Middle East, and will be in New York for UN meetings later this week.

We are entering the final phase of a 12 year history of the disarmament of Iraq. The duty on Saddam to destroy all his weapons of mass destruction was a central part of the ceasefire agreement at the end of the Gulf War in 1991. In a series of 17 resolutions since then the UN Security Council has put Saddam under 27 separate and categorical obligations: to give full, final and complete declarations on its weapons programmes; to give inspectors unconditional and unrestricted access; to cease the concealment of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction; and to cooperate fully with the inspectors in the disarmament of all its weapons of mass destruction. He has consistently flouted these obligations which is why for years there has been a sanctions regime in place against Iraq, which because of the way Saddam has applied it, has caused wholly unnecessary suffering to the Iraqi people.

Last November the UN Security Council concluded unanimously that Iraq was still in material breach of UN resolutions. Saddam was given and I quote "a final opportunity" to comply with his disarmament obligations. Resolution 1441 imposed on Saddam a duty to give "a currently accurate, full and complete declaration of all aspects of its programmes to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other delivery systems"; and to provide "immediate, unimpeded, unrestricted and private access" to all people the inspectors wish to interview "in the mode or location" of the inspectors' choice; and also to cooperate actively and fully with all the inspectors' demands.

Failure by Iraq at any time to comply with and cooperate fully in the implementation of the resolution was said in terms to constitute a further material breach.

Mr Speaker, eight weeks have now passed since Saddam was given his final chance. Six hundred weeks have passed since he was given his first chance.

The evidence of cooperation withheld is unmistakable. He has still not answered the questions concerning thousands of missing munitions and tonnes of chemical and biological agents unaccounted for. Rocket warheads with chemical weapons capacity have been found by the inspectors: they should have been declared. Classified documents of relevance to Iraq's past nuclear programme have been discovered in a scientist's private house: they should have been handed over. Of the first eleven documents specifically requested by the inspectors, only three have been produced. Not a single interviewee has come to an appointment with the inspectors without official minders.

As the report we published at the weekend makes clear, and which I have placed in the library of the House, there is a huge infrastructure of deception and concealment designed to prevent the inspectors from doing their job. US Secretary of State Colin Powell will report further to the UN on this on Wednesday.

As Dr Blix, the UN Chief Inspector reported last week, "Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance - not even today - of the disarmament which was demanded of it." He said that Iraq's declaration seemed to contain no new evidence; that there are indications that Iraq has weaponised the nerve agent VX, one of the most toxic ever developed; that there are strong indications that Iraq produced more anthrax than it has declared; and that the discovery of chemical rocket warheads could be the tip of an iceberg.

The situation could not therefore be clearer. There is a duty on Saddam to co-operate fully. At present he is not co-operating fully. Failure to do so is a material breach of Resolution 1441. Should Dr Blix continue to report Iraqi non-cooperation, a second Resolution should be passed confirming such a material breach. President Bush and I agreed we should seek maximum support for such a Resolution, provided, as ever, that seeking such a Resolution is a way of resolving the issue not delaying or avoiding dealing with it at all. I continue to believe the UN is the right way to proceed. There is an integrity in the process set out in 1441 and we should follow it.

We, of course, discussed the fact that WMD is not the only threat we face and Iraq is not the only country posing a risk in respect of WMD. Over the past few weeks, we have seen powerful evidence of the continuing terrorist threat: the suspected ricin plot in London and Manchester; Al Qaeda experiments in Afghanistan to develop chemical, biological and radiological weapons; the arrests of those linked to Al Qaeda in Spain and France; and further arrests in Italy.

What is more, many of these arrests show the terrorist groups actively seeking to use chemical or biological means to cause as much death and injury and suffering as they can. We know from 11 September that these terrorists have no demands that could ever be negotiated upon, no constraint in terms of finance and numbers to carry out terrorists acts, no compunction in taking human life.

At the same time, we know too that Iraq is not alone in developing WMD; that there are unstable, fiercely repressive states either proliferating or trying to acquire WMD, like North Korea.

I repeat my warning: unless we take a decisive stand now, as an international community, it is only a matter of time before these threats come together. That means pursuing international terrorism across the world in all its forms. It means confronting nations defying the world over WMD.

That is why a signal of weakness over Iraq is not only wrong in its own terms. Show weakness now and no-one will ever believe us when we try to show strength in the future. All our history - especially British history - points to this lesson. No-one wants conflict. Even now, war could be avoided if Saddam did what he is supposed to do. But if having made a demand backed up by a threat of force, we fail to enforce that demand, the result will not be peace or security. It will simply be returning to confront the issue again at a later time with the world less stable, the will of the international community less certain, and those repressive states or terrorist groups who would destroy our way of life, emboldened and undeterred.

Mr Speaker, even now I hope that conflict with Iraq can be avoided. Even now, I hope Saddam can come to his senses, co-operate fully and disarm peacefully, as the UN has demanded.

But if he does not, if he rejects the peaceful route, then he must be disarmed by force. If we have to go down this route, we shall do all we can to minimise the risks to the people of Iraq and we give an absolute undertaking to protect Iraq's territorial integrity. Our quarrel has never been with the Iraqi people but with Saddam.

But Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and the threats they pose to the world must be confronted. In doing so, this country, and our armed forces, will be helping the long-term peace and security of Britain and the world.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).