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Tony Blair: First Priority Is Stabilization of Iraq


British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he has no doubt weapons of mass destruction will be found in Iraq, but coalition forces have higher priorities at the moment.

The prime minister looked refreshed as he held his first news conference since the fall of Baghdad on April 9. Gone were the dark and heavy bags under his eyes that were so noticeable during the war.

But Mr. Blair did not project a triumphant mood. Instead, he said there is still a lot to do to repair Iraq, and world relations, damaged by the conflict.

Britain and the United States say they invaded Iraq because it possessed weapons of mass destruction. Several reporters wanted to know why these weapons have not been found yet. Mr. Blair said the search had barely begun.

"Our first priority has to be to stabilize the country," said Mr. Blair. "The second is the humanitarian situation. And the third, and we can take our time about this and so we should, is to make sure we investigate the weapons of mass destruction; and we will do that, and as I say every time I am asked, I remain confident they will be found."

The prime minister said the list of suspected weapons sites has grown from 150 to about 1,000, as the coalition gets more information from captured Iraqi scientists. He cautioned those who never believed the war aim against gloating too soon.

"Before people, let us say, 'crow' about the absence of the weapons of mass destruction," he said. "I suggest they wait a little bit, because there is a very deliberative process in place here."

The prime minister also predicts that as more information surfaces from Iraqi intelligence sources, links will found between Iraq and terrorist organizations.

Mr. Blair also ruled out asylum in Britain for former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz. Britain's biggest newspaper, the Sun, has reported that Mr. Aziz told American interrogators he wanted a new identity and a home in Britain before he would cooperate. Mr. Blair said he finds the story mystifying.

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