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[casi] from today's papers: 08-03-02

A. Blair is warned of Cabinet revolt if he backs US military action against
Saddam Hussein, Independent, 8th March
B. Shadow of war hangs over Iraq weapons talks, Independent, 8th March
C. UN spells out tough terms to Saddam on arms, Independent, 8th March
D. Cabinet concern grows over Blair's tough talk on Iraq, Guardian, 8th
E. Blair faces a Cabinet revolt over Saddam, Daily Telegraph, 8th March
F. RAF ready as US puts pressure on Saddam, Daily Telegraph, 8th March
G. Urgent military action against Iraq ruled out, Daily Telegraph, 8th March
H. Ministers step back from new war on Iraq, The Times, 8th March
I. Time up for Iraq, The Times, 8th March [leading article]
J. Blair comes into conflict with his own party over Iraq, Financial Times;
March 8
K. Ministers could quit if Blair backs attack on Iraq, FT, March 8
L. Annan seeks more time on US-Iraq stalemate, Financial Times; Mar 8, 2002

Financial Times:

Quite a lot about Iraq in today's papers. Below is all the stuff from
today's broadsheets that I could find available on the internet.

Unfortunately I've no time to go through them one by one but a clear
standout is the editorial in today's Times, praising Blair for his
and politically courageous' stand in the wake of the 'mass of intelligence
that [Saddam] is rapidly nearing his goals' of acquiring 'useable
biochemical, chemical and nuclear weapons.' Inspections must start 'within
days, if possible, weeks at the most' and the US and Britain 'should set a
specific, early and non-negotiable date, after which they will deem Iraq to
have said no to the UN.'

A couple of anti-sanctions / anti-war letters - from Glenn and Fay,
who are getting to be quite a double act - appeared in today's Independent.
Keep on writing!

Best wishes,



A. Blair is warned of Cabinet revolt if he backs US military action against
Saddam Hussein
By Nigel Morris and David Usborne

08 March 2002

Tony Blair was warned by cabinet colleagues yesterday of a ministerial
rebellion if Britain joins American-led military action against Iraq.

He was told that the hostility among Labour backbenchers over the prospect
of strikes against Saddam Hussein's regime was shared at all levels of

The threat to cabinet unity surfaced as the UN secretary-general, Kofi
Annan, reported a "positive and constructive" atmosphere at the first UN
talks with an Iraqi delegation in a year – aimed at securing the return of
UN weapons inspectors to Iraq.

The Bush administration is insisting Iraq must comply with the UN demands,
or face possible military action. However, US officials confirmed yesterday
that the Bush administration is itself split on whether to "finish the job"
left undone by George Bush Snr in 1991 or whether to solve the festering
Iraqi threat through diplomacy.

Mr Blair chaired a lengthy cabinet debate on Iraq while rumours swept
Whitehall of threatened resignations among ministers if British troops
became involved in a second front in the war on terrorism.

During frank exchanges, Mr Blair was warned that any action would have to be
justified by detailed, overwhelming evidence of Baghdad's development of
weapons of mass destruction in defiance of international law.

The strongest cabinet critic of military action is believed to be Clare
Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, who was not at
yesterday's cabinet meeting. An ally said: "She would want a thorough
analysis of what's being proposed." Robin Cook, the Leader of the Commons,
is also understood to be prominent among cabinet "doves" on the issue.

Asked after the cabinet meeting whether ministers shared Labour MPs'
reservations about attacks on Iraq, he replied: "Lots of people have
sometimes contradictory instincts on this."

More than 60 Labour MPs have signed a Commons motion expressing "deep
unease" about the looming threat of attacks on Iraq, while a BBC survey of
backbenchers indicated that 85 per cent opposed military action.

The simmering discontent follows a hint by Mr Blair that Britain could
endorse action by President George Bush, who has named Iraq as one of the
three nations comprising an "axis of evil". Mr Blair told MPs this week:
"Iraq is plainly in breach of the United Nations Security Council resolution
in relation to the accumulation of weapons of mass destruction, and we have
to deal with it."

Mr Annan told the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri, in New York yesterday
that its government still had no choice but to readmit foreign weapons
inspectors if it wants to escape international sanctions imposed after its
1990 invasion of Kuwait.

But, although Mr Sabri described the first round of talks as "positive", it
remains to be seen whether the new Iraqi flexibility will be enough to
satisfy the Americans, who can point to years of military stand-offs over
the Iraq arms inspections.

Mr Blair will meet Mr Bush for talks about Iraq at the President's Texan
ranch between 5 and 7 April. The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said
he did not know of "any plans that would be on his [the President's] desk"
concerning military action against Iraq when Mr Blair visits.

B. Shadow of war hangs over Iraq weapons talks
By David Usborne in New York and Anne Penketh

08 March 2002

UN spells out tough terms to Saddam on arms

Iraq and the United Nations were back in familiar territory yesterday as the
Iraqi Foreign Minister heard a demand from the UN secretary-general to allow
weapons monitors into the country or face the wrath of the international

But unlike past meetings held with a threat of US military action hanging in
the background, yesterday's took place amid mounting signs of the United
States' resolve to end the Iraq crisis once and for all.

"In my view, it's allow the inspectors in or its extinction," one senior
Western diplomat said last night, commenting on the options left for Iraq.
"If the Iraqis have any sense, they will have to co-operate. They would be
fools not to."

Before the meeting, both the US and Britain dispatched their envoys at the
UN to see the secretary general, Kofi Annan, to urge him to harden his
resolve and to warn against agreeing to negotiate on the content of the UN
resolutions on Iraq.

The British view is that Iraq will have heard President George Bush's "axis
of evil" message, improving the chances that Baghdad will relent and agree
to a return of the inspectors fairly soon.

Significantly, Mr Annan included Hans Blix in the talks. Mr Blix is head of
the newly constituted UN weapons inspection division that is awaiting word
to go back into Iraq. His presence at the meeting was meant to convey to
Iraq that the time had arrived to get serious about resuming inspections
after three years.

It is not clear, however, that everyone in Washington would welcome an Iraqi
concession on the inspectors. A decision by Saddam Hussein to readmit the
inspectors would rob Mr Bush of the clearest justification for military

Moreover, there would be plenty of cause to worry that Iraq would allow
inspectors in but then proceed to hinder their work. Washington would find
itself hung on a difficult dilemma. With Britain, it has been the most
relentless in insisting on the sanctity of the UN resolutions passed on

Any decision to take military action against Iraq would amount to
short-circuiting the UN process. That would look especially contradictory if
Iraq was at the same time resuming some degree of compliance. "The US
government collectively absolutely acknowledges that they are committed to
the resolutions. If Iraq says yes, they can't be the ones that say no," the
same diplomat said.

At present, the US strategy appears to be to let the diplomatic process run
its course – although there is a perception that any Iraqi "good behaviour"
would not last long. That would allow a breathing space for the US military
to restock bomb supplies plundered by the Afghan war effort.

France again made public yesterday its nervousness about the American
position. "President Bush has shown that he regards Iraq as an enemy
country," the French Defence Minister, Alain Richard, said on a radio
interview. "He has set himself a challenge, a sort of moral obligation and
so now he is faced with the problem of taking a strategic initiative
regarding Iraq."

As if to underline its mood, Washington dispatched a team of six
intelligence experts to the UN on Wednesday to claim that Iraq had diverted
for military use scores of lorries provided for humanitarian purposes by the
UN. They showed a sanctions panel of the Security Council satellite pictures
of the lorries at military installations and towing weaponry in a Baghdad

Most diplomats predict, however, that any military action by the US remains
months away, with Washington needing time to resolve divisions and detail
its vision of a future Iraq.

C. UN spells out tough terms to Saddam on arms
By Anne Penketh

08 March 2002

Shadow of war hangs over Iraq weapons talks

Saddam Hussein was preparing for war last night as the United Nations told
an Iraqi delegation what Baghdad must do to avoid a new American-led bombing

Lawyers for the US State Department argue that Iraq, which has barred UN
weapons inspectors since 1998, is currently in breach of the ceasefire that
ended the Gulf war in 1991.

If the UN Security Council declares Iraq to be in "material breach" of the
ceasefire, the US-led coalition would automatically be back at war with
Baghdad. To avoid such a scenario, the Iraqis must satisfy the UN weapons
inspectors that their suspected nuclear weapons programme has been
dismantled, and all chemical and biological weapons destroyed. All
long-range missiles that could threaten Iraq's neighbours must be

Iraq has long maintained that all its weapons of mass destruction have been
destroyed and is demanding the lifting of UN sanctions imposed after the
1990 invasion of Kuwait, which are linked to the weapons issue.

But the spokesman for the weapons inspectors, Ewen Buchanan, asked
yesterday: "Who knows what's happened in the last three years", during which
the UN monitors have been barred from the country?

The Iraqi leader gathered his senior staff together this week. The Deputy
Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, said there was a cabinet meeting lasting "many
hours" on Tuesday, and another with senior officials on Wednesday "to
discuss preparations to face and repel the aggression".

The US and Britain insist Iraq must show it is serious about weapons
inspections if it wants the sanctions to end.

D. Cabinet concern grows over Blair's tough talk on Iraq

Michael White and Julian Borger in Washington
Friday March 8, 2002
The Guardian

Signs of real unease within the cabinet over the perceived hardening of Tony
Blair's position towards Iraq began to emerge last night.
And the prospect of a US-led military intervention against Saddam Hussein's
regime prompted up to 60 backbench Labour MPs at Westminster yesterday to
urge restraint, and express their "deep unease". The hour-long cabinet
meeting included what offi cials later described as a thoughtful and sombre
discussion of the options.

The international development secretary, Clare Short, a past critic of
western policy in the region, was absent on business in Spain, and Downing
Street denied that another minister spoke out against the military option.

But there was no denying growing concern. Some anxiety is focused on the
prospect of an interventionist agenda set by hawks in the Bush
administration. Yesterday it was offset by the stress which Mr Blair laid on
building a long strategy that would not see action "for many months", Robin
Cook later told MPs.

Questioned by reporters at his weekly meeting, the leader of the Commons
admitted that "many people sometimes have contradictory instincts on this.
Nobody likes military action".

He also praised the Labour rebels as MPs who include some with "long and
honourable records in opposing proliferation and demanding strong action"
against transgressors. That may have been a hint to colleagues that they
should not be undermining efforts to keep Saddam nervous about the west's
intentions while efforts are made to re-open weapons inspections.

Coincidentally, the UN and Iraq yesterday held their first talks in a year
on the possible return of inspectors to look for weapons of mass destruction
in what the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, described as an effort to
prevent a new Middle East war. The talks were described as exploratory, and
neither side predicted an immediate breakthrough more than three years after
UN inspectors withdrew from Iraq in frustration over Iraqi obstruction of
their work.

Mr Annan held a short one-on-one meeting with the Iraqi foreign minister,
Naji Sabri, before inviting in weapons experts from both sides.

"I wouldn't want to see a widening conflict in the region," Mr Annan told
reporters. "I think we have our hands full with the tragedy that is going on
there already," he said in an apparent reference to Israeli-Palestinian

Yesterday's meetings ended with an agreement to talk again next month. "It's
one step better than last year as both sides have agreed it's worth having
another round," said a western diplomat at the UN. "It's not clear whether
the Iraqis have really changed their minds on complying with inspections, or
they've decided it's better to have a process going to string us along to
avoid the threat of war, or unilateral action."

Downing Street has persistently stressed the dangers of ignoring Iraq's
attempts to rebuild its arsenal - a concern privately high on Mr Blair's
agenda before September 11.

Yesterday Mr Cook cited unaccounted chemical stocks, the regime's "obsessive
interest" in biological weapons and its determination to obtain missiles.
But he rejected calls for MPs to be consulted on the grounds that it would
be "ludicrously premature" when no decision is likely in the "near or
immediate future".

Mr Blair will visit President George Bush on April 5-7, it was announced

Western diplomats at the UN in New York said the participation of a
high-level Iraqi delegation in the talks suggested that Saddam is taking US
threats to topple him seriously.

In Baghdad, the Iraqi deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, revealed that
Saddam has chaired two meetings this week to discuss preparations for any
attack by the US.

E. Blair faces a Cabinet revolt over Saddam
By George Jones, Political Editor

Daily Telegraph
(Filed: 08/03/2002)

TONY BLAIR faced the prospect of a Cabinet revolt over military action
against Iraq yesterday after ministers claimed that America could drag
Britain into a new Gulf war.

They urged the Prime Minister to quieten talk of military action and instead
press for a diplomatic solution through the United Nations.

The weekly Cabinet meeting was dominated by a discussion on the growing US
preparations to topple Saddam Hussein and destroy his stockpile of chemical
and biological weapons and missiles.

Washington has started its countdown to war by publishing satellite
photographs of lorries entering military bases near Baghdad and emerging as
rocket launchers.

The talk is not whether to launch an attack, but when and how, possibly
mobilising Afghan-style opposition within Iraq. Mr Blair is expected to
discuss America's plans at a summit with President Bush in Texas from April

The White House said they would have talks on "key foreign policy matters".
Although no decision was taken by the Cabinet yesterday, the clear message
was that ministers were alarmed by the US threats.

Robin Cook, Leader of the Commons, told MPs that talk of military action was
"ludicrously premature". No decision was expected for months.

This was in marked contrast to more warlike rhetoric from Mr Blair and Geoff
Hoon, the Defence Secretary. Both have alarmed Labour MPs by signalling that
Britain would back US action.

Last week Mr Blair said Iraq posed a real threat to world stability and
underlined the importance of taking action against states that spread
weapons of mass destruction. Mr Hoon said Britain would back US action "if
the conditions were right".

More than 60 Labour backbenchers have signed a Commons motion voicing "deep
unease" at the prospect that the Government might support US action. It
urges Mr Blair to use Britain's influence with Iraq to gain agreement that
UN weapons inspections would resume.

The rebels warn privately that Mr Blair could face the most serious Labour
split since he came to power in 1997 if Britain backed strikes against Iraq.
They say he might need to rely on Tory votes to win a Commons vote.

Labour MPs believe that at least two senior ministers support their motion,
but are prevented from backing it publicly by rules of collective Cabinet

Clare Short, the International Development Secretary, resigned from Labour's
front bench over the Gulf war in 1991 and is understood to have similar
doubts about renewed US action.

Mr Cook is believed to have been among the ministers expressing strong
doubts. He made clear to journalists that he wanted a diplomatic rather than
a military offensive.

But he said ministers acknowledged the threat posed by Saddam's attempts to
develop weapons of mass destruction and missiles capable of launching them.

Military action would be a "last resort". Discussion in the media was "way
ahead" of what was happening here or in the US. "There is no decision. No
imminent prospect of a decision, and it doesn't necessarily follow there
will ever be a decision to use military action."

Mr Blair was said by officials to have acknowledged the Cabinet's concerns
and agreed that the case had to be made before any action was taken against

F. RAF ready as US puts pressure on Saddam
By David Graves and Neil Tweedie

Daily Telegraph
(Filed: 08/03/2002)

AMERICA has been quietly building up forces in the Gulf in readiness for the
coming campaign against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

The RAF has also moved Jaguar fighter bombers to Oman, ostensibly for
exercises with the Omani air force. In the event of a conflict the aircraft
could supplement Tornado and Jaguar bombers already based in Kuwait and

Click to enlarge

Although Washington has not yet decided how to unseat Saddam, the decision
that he should be removed from power has already been made. US officials are
firmly convinced that Britain will join the campaign, whatever the rhetoric
from London.

With Vice-President Dick Cheney due to start an 11-nation tour of the region
next week, and Tony Blair expected to travel to Washington for a summit with
President Bush at the beginning of April, some diplomats believe an air
campaign could begin shortly afterwards.

While most of the American troop movements in the region are regarded as
defensive - initially to protect neighbouring countries which might later
provide bases to much larger allied forces - all four US armed services have
moved command headquarters to the Gulf.

Iraq, too, has been busy attempting to buy arms in world markets in
readiness for an Anglo-American attack. It has been seeking a rapprochement
with Iran after both countries were named, with North Korea, as an "axis of
evil" by Mr Bush in January.

A substantial American ground force would be essential if America is to
persuade domestic opponents of Saddam that it is serious about removing his

More than 20,000 US soldiers and sailors are now in the Gulf region. America
has 300 tactical aircraft in the area. Additional units could be in place
within a matter of weeks.

In Turkey, from where American and British aircraft already patrol the
no-fly zone in the north of Iraq, there has been a major build-up of US
ground and air forces. Extra US anti-missile Patriot units have been

Most of the US aircraft are at Incirlik air base, where RAF Jaguars are also
based. But if Turkey is to provide bases, Washington will first have to
assuage fears among Turkish leaders that an invasion of Iraq could further
damage its fragile economy and lead to the emergence of a Kurdish state in
northern Iraq.

While Washington continues negotiations with Ankara, it has launched a
substantial airlift into Vaziani air base near Tbilisi, the Georgian

Diplomats said the aircraft were carrying sophisticated communications and
electronic equipment for the US air force which could be used to provide
bases in Georgia, in case Ankara refused permission for strikes to be
launched from Turkey.

To the south of Iraq, the main US build-up has been in Kuwait, which was
liberated by coalition forces during the 1991 Gulf war following a
seven-month Iraqi occupation. There are now 6,000 US troops on exercise in
the emirate, three times the normal American garrison.

The US Central Command, responsible for all military operations in the Gulf,
recently moved its army HQ to Kuwait. There are now more than 1,000 US war
planners and logistics staff in the region.

RAF Tornados, enforcing the no-fly zone over southern Iraq, are based at Ali
Al Salem air base in the emirate and extra US Patriot missile units have
been deployed there.

Six hundred German and Czech specialists in nuclear, chemical and biological
warfare - which Saddam is suspected of developing - are "on exercise" in

The US Marine Corps has moved most of its Pacific headquarters from Hawaii
to Bahrain, already the headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet.

RAF Tristar air refuelling tankers, involved in enforcing the no-fly zone
over southern Iraq, are based at Bahrain airport. There is enough
pre-positioned American armour for a mechanised brigade in Qatar. In Oman,
there has been a substantial US airlift through Seeb, Thumrait and Masirah
island, the former RAF base in the Arabian Sea.

RAF Tristar and VC10 air refuelling tankers, which are involved in
operations over Afghanistan, are based at Seeb in Oman and could easily be
diverted to operations over Iraq.

Saddam is estimated to be illicitly exporting up to 200,000 barrels of oil
daily through a pipeline opened in late 2000 to Syria. Much of the £625
million he receives annually is used to maintain his armed forces.

In Iran, troops and missile batteries have been moved to three disputed
islands which command the strategic Strait of Hormuz, vital for allied
shipping entering the Gulf.

G. Urgent military action against Iraq ruled out

Daily Telegraph, 8th March

THE Government does not expect to take military action against Iraq in the
"near or immediate future," MPs were told yesterday.

Tam Dalyell (Lab, Linlithgow), Father of the House, said he hoped the
Commons would be informed before any military action took place.

He referred to remarks in the House on Wednesday by the Prime Minister when
he said: "No decisions have been taken yet in respect of any possible action
on Iraq."

In answer to Mr Dalyell, Robin Cook, the Leader of the House, said calls for
consultation with MPs were "ludicrously premature".

Speaking during business questions, he added: "Indeed there is no timetable
or no process by which such a decision should be taken.

"It therefore would be ludicrously premature for myself as Leader of the
House to commit myself to what the House may do in the event of a wholly
hypothetical outcome which is not expected for many months."

He said that after the crisis in Afghanistan erupted there had been five
separate full-day debates on the issue.

Douglas Hogg (C, Sleaford and North Hykeham) also said he would like to have
an early debate on Iraq led by the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister
and for a document identifying "chief areas for concern".

He added: "In the event of the Government deciding to take or support
action, including military action, outside what goes on in the no-flight
zones at the moment, would you seek the support of the House on a
substantive motion even if that authority has to be given retrospectively?"

Mr Cook said Mr Hogg had floated an "alternative option" to Mr Dalyell, but
reiterated that it was "ludicrously premature".

But he said he did not see any difficulty in the Government publishing a
response to areas of concern Mr Hogg had alluded to.

These areas were "well-known and unarguable". The Iraqi regime had several
thousand unaccounted litres of toxic chemicals.

It also had considerable investment in developing germ agents for biological
weapons and had proceeded with missiles that could deliver such warheads.

"And of course Saddam Hussein in the past has used chemical weapons in his
attack on an innocent village of Kurds, when he wiped out 5,000 women,
children and elderly men with mustard gas.

"Given that history and given that present record I think it is entirely
proper that the world should take action through every available channel,
starting with the United Nations, to make sure that Saddam Hussein accepts
what the rest of the world accepts: that no regime should have access to
weapons of mass destruction unless they themselves are fully predicating in
international regimes to control proliferation."

Later, two Labour MPs - one a junior Foreign Office minister - apologised to
the Commons after their public row over Iraq which halted a debate in
Westminster Hall, the Commons parallel chamber, on Wednesday.

The clash was between Ben Bradshaw, the junior minister and MP for Exeter,
and George Galloway, the Left-wing backbencher for Glasgow Kelvin.

With Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, in the Chamber, both expressed their
regret for their bitter public row. Mr Bradshaw had said Mr Galloway was a
"mouthpiece" for Saddam Hussein, and in turn, Mr Galloway accused him of
being a liar.

H. Ministers step back from new war on Iraq
By Philip Webster, Political Editor

The Times
March 08, 2002

A GROWING Labour revolt over possible military action against Iraq surfaced
at Cabinet level yesterday when Tony Blair was warned against the dangers of
being dragged into a new Gulf War.
As more than 60 MPs signed a Commons motion opposing a war in Iraq in the
second phase of the anti-terrorism campaign, Cabinet ministers at their
weekly session told Mr Blair that all diplomatic avenues must be explored
before military action was even contemplated.

Robin Cook, the Commons leader, who was reported to have been among the
strong doubters at the meeting, allowed the misgivings to become public
later when he told MPs: “No decision has been taken. No decision may ever be

Mr Blair, who listened as one minister after another voiced the caution
being increasingly shown on the backbenches, agreed with his colleagues that
if military action were to be taken the case for it would have to be
“painstakingly made”, according to senior Cabinet sources.

However, every member who spoke in what Downing Street called a “good,
detailed discussion” said that action had to be taken to tackle Saddam
Hussein’s burgeoning arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, ministers said.

One minister said: “There was no row. The debate was robust. It would be a
huge task to persuade the public and party that military action was
justified unless we tried every other possible avenue. In the end it may be
necessary, but nobody is ready to agree that yet.”

The Prime Minister has begun a campaign to prepare public opinion for the
need for action against Iraq, but his case has not been helped by the
anti-American sentiment that has arisen over President Bush’s decision to
slap tariffs on steel imports.

The Cabinet’s mood of caution was expressed a month before Mr Blair travels
to Mr Bush’s ranch at Crawford, Texas, for talks on the terrorism war. The
trip was announced yesterday.

“The visit is an important opportunity for the President to spend time with
the leader of one of the United States’s most important allies and
exceptionally close partner in our war against terrorism,” Ari Fleischer, Mr
Bush’s spokesman, said.

Mr Blair will be the second world leader to go to Mr Bush’s beloved “Prairie
Chapel” ranch. President Putin travelled there as part of a summit last

Mr Cook told journalists at a weekly briefing that there had been a general
tour d’horizon in Iraq and that there had been a “thoughtful and sober”

He said there had been a frank recognition of the scale of threat posed by
Saddam with his unaccounted for chemical and other weapons. This was a
serious issue that could not be ignored, but the issue to be decided was how
to address it, how they got the international community behind them, and how
they used UN resolutions to force Saddam to dismantle his arsenals.

Mr Cook then went on: “There is a danger that discussion in the press is
getting way ahead of where discussion is here and in the United States.
There is no decision. There is no immediate prospect of a decision and it
does not necessarily follow that there will ever be a decision on the use of
military action.”

He added, however: “One option that is not available is doing nothing.”

Mr Cook’s words were clearly designed to calm Labour MPs, but ministers
believe Mr Bair will have a difficult job to persuade the country of the
need for new military action against Saddam.

I. Time up for Iraq
Blair has rightly accepted the urgency of action

The Times
8th March

Yesterday’s meeting at the United Nations brought a senior Iraqi delegation
face to face for the first time with the head of the UN Monitoring,
Verification and Inspection Commission (Unmovic), Hans Blix. The decision
that he should be present was Kofi Annan’s; but it is significant that
Saddam Hussein, who has for three years refused all contact with UN weapons
“spies”, did not then back out of “discussions” with the Secretary-General.
Iraq itself requested these talks. It shows that Saddam realises that he
must make a show of taking seriously President Bush’s ultimatum on finally
ridding Iraq of its illegal weapons of mass destruction and covert
production facilities.

Arab governments are anxiously pressing Iraq to stop blocking inspections.
So did Russia and China when Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz,
recently did the rounds of their capitals. Saddam’s invitation to Tony Blair
last week to send a British team to Baghdad fell, for once, as flat as it
deserved to. In the Security Council, patience with Iraq’s endless evasions
has evaporated. That is not least because its more ambivalent members are
convinced that full Iraqi compliance with UN resolutions is now the only way
to stall an American offensive and keep up the fiction, threadbare as they
know it to be, that the potent menace of Saddam’s regime can be “contained”.

Washington took a dim view of this meeting; it suspects Saddam of trying to
buy time and in this it is almost certainly correct. A seeming readiness to
comply would pile pressure on the US to be “patient” while Iraq multiplied
excuses for delaying the start of inspections — and led the inspectors, once
they arrived, the usual dance. Mr Annan’s staff referred approvingly
yesterday to Iraq’s new “flexibility”; flexibility is exactly what he should
be ruling out.

The Security Council terms, reiterated for the umpteenth time last December,
are clear. There must be no Iraqi veto over the composition of Unmovic; no
“sanctuaries” immune from penetration; no artificial deadlines since there
is no way of knowing how much time the inspectors will need or what they
will find — or be prevented from uncovering and destroying to their full
satisfaction. There is no scope for “discussion” when what is required is
Iraq’s immediate and unconditional compliance.

Mr Blair has shed his earlier reticence about military action against Iraq,
if that is required to deal conclusively with this long-brooding destructive
threat. He is now at one with President Bush. Saddam’s known determination
to acquire useable biochemical, chemical and nuclear weapons and the mass of
intelligence that he is rapidly nearing his goals, means that the gravest
danger is that action will come “too late”. To say so publicly, as he has
begun to do, has been both necessary and politically courageous. He has gone
against perhaps four fifths of Labour MPs, Robin Cook not least, and been
rebuked by both France and Germany for breaking the EU “consensus” that
pressure should stop short of military action.

It is worth one last attempt to get the inspectors in. The new UN team, set
up back in 1999, is more formidably equipped than its predecessor. It has
230 trained inspectors, a vast database with sophisticated cross-
referencing and powerful search engines, satellite imagery and extensive
testimony from defectors and intelligence agents. When he headed the
International Atomic Energy Agency, Hans Blix had the wool pulled over his
eyes by Iraq. He should not be fooled twice over. But they must start within
days if possible, weeks at most.

The US and Britain should set a specific, early and non-negotiable date,
after which they will deem Iraq to have said no to the UN. When Mr Blair
meets Mr Bush again next month, it will be for a council of war in which
Iraq, quite rightly, will be firmly on the agenda. Neither fighting in
Afghanistan, nor anti-American muttering from Britain’s EU partners, nor
Palestinian conflagration, alters that. Afghanistan, as Mr Blair said last
week, was ignored for far too long. Policy on Iraq has been a shambles too.
The reckoning is unavoidable.

J. Blair comes into conflict with his own party over Iraq
Financial Times; Mar 8, 2002

Tony Blair is not the first Labour leader to find that his stance on Iraq
brings him into conflict with his own party.

Until now most of the grief has come from veteran and left-wing
backbenchers. More than 60 Labour MPs have signed a Commons motion opposing
military action in Iraq, but the prime minister has been safe in the
knowledge that they mostly include the usual backbench suspects.

There is no danger of losing a Commons vote because Mr Blair can expect to
count on the support of the Conservatives. However, concern is evident among
ministers, although most have been keeping their counsel.

Clare Short, international development secretary, is among the most unhappy.
In 1991, she left Neil Kinnock's frontbench team, after he told her to stop
speaking out against the Gulf war.

Labour had decided to support John Major's government in the conflict.
However Ms Short resigned as social security spokesperson, after saying the
campaign should be reviewed: "It is about smashing up Iraq, and it is a
widening of the war aims," she said. She was one of five frontbenchers to
quit or be sacked over the issue.

Another critic was Robin Cook, then shadow health secretary, who questioned
the bombing. "Is it necessary to blow up every power station, water supply
and every bridge to get the troops out of Kuwait?" he asked.

The resumption of air strikes on Iraq in the last parliament prompted
pressure from veterans such as Tam Dalyell, now Father of the House, and
Tony Benn, former cabinet minister. They were unhappy both at the policy and
at the way action was taken without a full vote of parliament.

On Wednesday, Mr Blair was asked by Diane Abbott to guarantee a debate and
vote in the Commons before any action was taken. He stopped short of giving
her any promise, saying there would be "an opportunity for the House of
express its view". This may mean a debate without a vote.

K. Ministers could quit if Blair backs attack on Iraq CABINET DOVES OPPOSE
Financial Times; Mar 8, 2002

Tony Blair faces the threat of ministerial resignations - including at least
one cabinet member - if he backs any US military action against Iraq,
government insiders said yesterday.

The warning comes as the prime minister is under growing pressure from
ministers who say the government is drifting and failing to seize the
domestic agenda.

On the eve of a special political session of the cabinet at Chequers to
discuss next month's Budget, the spending round and public services,
ministers said the government was failing to get a coherent message across.

Doubts about military action in Iraq surfaced at the cabinet's regular
weekly meeting yesterday, when some ministers expressed reservations about
committing British forces without clear political support and an exit plan.

Government whips have warned Mr Blair that backbench unease over Iraq goes
well beyond the 60 Labour signatories to a Commons motion opposing military

Ministers say that to win the party's backing, there would have to be clear
evidence of the threat posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's pursuit of
weapons of mass destruction. Mr Blair would face widespread dissent if he
proceeded without it.

"People have talked of low-level resignations, but they could go right up
into the cabinet," said a government insider.

Clare Short, international development secretary - who was in Spain
yesterday - is thought to be among the most concerned. She resigned from the
shadow cabinet in 1991 rather than toe the official line supporting the Gulf

Robin Cook, leader of the Commons, is also believed to be among the doves.
He told the house yesterday that no decision had been taken and "none may
ever be taken" to attack Iraq. Later he did not deny to reporters that there
were divisions inside the government. "Lots of people have sometimes
contradictory instincts on this. Nobody likes military action," he said.

He spoke warmly of the backbench dissidents, saying many who signed the
motion had a "strong and honourable record of condemning proliferation". But
he added that doing nothing about Mr Saddam was not an option because he was
acquiring materials for chemical and biological weapons.

Kofi Annan, UN secretary general, yesterday met Naji Sabri al-Hadithi,
Iraq's foreign minister, for discussions that many UN diplomats think
represent Baghdad's only chance to avoid a US bombing campaign.

Mr Annan pleaded for time to find a diplomatic solution to the dispute,
warning against any widening of the conflict in the Middle East.

"I think we have our hands full with the tragedy going on there already," he
said, referring to the escalation of violence between Israel and the
Palestinians. "So I would want to see a situation where we are able to solve
our differences diplomatically."

Trouble on the inter-national front comes amid ministerial anxiety over the
handling of domestic issues after the Enron, Mittal and Byers affairs. "We
need to find our philosophy again. People don't know what we stand for any
more," said a cabinet minister.

"We need to get back to the idea that Labour stands for opportunity for all.
People think we are all just a bunch of shysters."

Another said: "We have got to get our message back on to the public services
and away from the distractions that have hit us."

A minister seen as a supporter of Mr Blair accused him of being bored and
focusing only on foreign affairs.

L. Annan seeks more time on US-Iraq stalemate
Financial Times; Mar 8, 2002

Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general, yesterday pleaded for time
to find a diplomatic solution to the dispute between Iraq and the US,
warning against any widening of the conflict in the Middle East.

"I think we have our hands full with the tragedy that is going on there
already," he said, referring to the escalation of violence between Israel
and the Palestinians. "So I would want to see a situation where we are able
to solve our differences diplomatically."

Mr Annan met Naji Sabri al-Hadithi, Iraq's foreign minister, for discussions
that many UN diplomats think represent Baghdad's only chance to avoid a US
bombing campaign. Fred Eckhard, Mr Annan's spokesman, said after the first
of two sessions that the talks had got off to a "good and focused start".

At the meeting, which was also attended by Hans Blix, the UN's chief weapons
inspector, and Hossan Amin, one of Iraq's top arms experts, Mr Annan urged
Baghdad to allow UN inspectors back into the country.

Baghdad has blocked the return of inspectors since the teams were evacuated
ahead of the most recent US bombing campaign, in December 1998.

After the September 11 attacks, the US sharply increased its rhetoric
against Saddam Hussein, Iraq's president, branding his regime a member of an
"axis of evil" alongside North Korea and Iran.

Diplomats think the renewed pressure helped bring Baghdad back to
negotiations. But they warned they did not expect a quick breakthrough as
Iraqi officials were likely to stretch out the talks for as long as

The Security Council, including Russia, Iraq's closest ally in the group, is
fully backing the return of UN inspectors, even though a US bombing campaign
remains unpopular among most of Washington's European and Arab allies.

In Moscow, Alexander Yakovenko, spokesman for Russia's foreign ministry,
said "a political process of outstanding importance is taking a step
forward", adding the meetings could significantly ease tensions around Iraq
and contribute to acomprehensive settlement of the Iraqi problem.

The threat of US military action was not only palpable at the UN but also on
the trading floors of the world's oil markets, where prices rose yesterday.

Traders attributed part of the increase to news that the US had presented
the UN with evidence that Iraq had converted civilian trucks into rocket
launchers and military vehicles.

The presentation, which was first reported by the FT on Tuesday, was seen as
a tactic by Washington to put pressure on Baghdad ahead of yesterday's

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