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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blair Says Iraq Has One Final Chance

LONDON -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair dismissed as misguided Tuesday a French-German-Russian plan to give weapons inspectors more time to search Iraq.

Britain and the United States would give Saddam Hussein "one further final chance" to disarm by waiting before they seek a vote on a new UN resolution, he said.

France, Germany and Russia on Monday circulated a plan to strengthen weapons inspections, extending them beyond July 1 in hopes of avoiding war.

"It is not us who have to justify why it is we are putting down a resolution stating what is the fact -- that he's not cooperating fully and is in breach of Resolution 1441," Blair said. "It's for others to say why, having given him that final opportunity, and he has not taken it, we then still don't act."

Blair said Hussein's refusal to fully and actively cooperate with the UN teams meant more inspections were pointless.

"At the core of this proposition is the notion that the task of the inspectors is to enter Iraq to find the weapons, to sniff them out," he told Parliament.

"That is emphatically not the inspectors' job. They are not a detective agency. ... The issue is not time. It is will. If Saddam is willing genuinely to cooperate, then the inspectors should have up to July and beyond July, as much time as they want."

Blair told lawmakers that Britain, the United States and Spain would wait before seeking a vote on a draft UN resolution they introduced Monday declaring that Iraq had missed its chance to peacefully disarm.

"We will delay it to give Saddam one further final chance to disarm voluntarily," he said.

British officials have said they will likely push for a Security Council vote on the new resolution in about two weeks.

The draft is likely to provoke heated debate at the United Nations, where France and Germany have led opposition to a possible war on Iraq.

Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw met with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in London. The Foreign Office had no immediate comment on the talks, and the politicians did not comment publicly.

Blair also faced skepticism about a possible war at the House of Commons, where legislators plan a full debate on Iraq on Wednesday but got an early start by questioning Blair after his statement.

He faces strong opposition from backbenchers in his own Labour Party who fear he is too ready to follow U.S. President George W. Bush's lead. Some polls show less than 10 percent of Britons support going to war without UN backing, a possibility Blair leaves open.

"Is not the role of a true friend in present circumstances to be candid with the president of the United States and to tell him that the evidence is not yet compelling, that the work of inspectors is not yet done and the moral case for war, with all its consequences, has not yet been made?" asked lawmaker Chris Smith, a former member of Blair's Cabinet.

Blair replied that Hussein must disarm for war to be averted, saying that if the world showed him it was divided he would not do so.

"Yes, of course, I should be candid with the president of the United States," he said. "But my own view very strongly is that we have given [Hussein] time and time again the opportunity to comply, and now is the time that we have to force the issue."

Earlier, Straw said Britain retained "freedom of maneuver" and would make its own decision about whether to wage war on Iraq, independently of what action the United States takes.

"We are an independent sovereign country," Straw told BBC radio, adding: "We have not yet made a decision in respect of military action."