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British Official Reiterates Call for Swift UN Action on Iraq

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw challenged the international community Saturday to act resolutely against Iraq's defiance of U.N. demands to disarm. The British official addressed the U.N. General Assembly in New York two days after President Bush issued his own hard-hitting call for action to force Iraq to comply.

The British foreign secretary accused Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of mocking the authority of the United Nations. He warned Iraq is setting a dangerous precedent that would make the world a far more dangerous place.

"No country has ever deceived every other country in the world as systematically and as cynically as Iraq," he said. "And no country presents as fundamental a challenge to the United Nations as Iraq. We cannot let Iraq continue defying a decade of [Security] Council resolutions.

The British foreign secretary called for swift action to force Iraq to re-admit weapons inspectors, who have been out of the country for almost four years.

"There are times when hard choices have to be made," he said. "On Iraq, we have now reached such a moment. If we fail to deal with this challenge, the United Nations itself will seriously be weakened."

The Security Council has taken up the issue. Its 15 members agree Iraq has to comply with council resolutions. But the U.S. idea, backed by Britain, of using military force, if necessary, is not universally subscribed to.

U.S. officials hope to persuade key members, including Russia, over the next two or three weeks to set a strict deadline for Iraq to let the inspections resume, or face the consequences.

Meanwhile, Iraq has rejected the call for an immediate, unqualified return of the inspectors. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, who is also in New York to attend the General Assembly, met with France's foreign minister early Saturday, and heard a strong demand for compliance. Mr. Sabri is reported to have said that Iraq would not allow the inspections until the United Nations resolves other issues at the same time, such as the lifting of economic sanctions and an end to U.S.-British air raids.

The United States and Britain patrol no-fly zones over parts of Iraq.

The Iraqi argument is not new. But it comes at a time when the Security Council is under pressure to get tough. President Bush implied in his own U.N. speech this past week that Washington would act alone, if the Council fails to enforce its weapons demands.