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Blair Promises Full Inquiry Into British Arms Expert's Death - 2003-07-19

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, on a visit to Japan, has expressed support for multilateral talks to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis. Mr. Blair also said there would be a full inquiry into the death of British Defense Ministry weapons expert David Kelly, who was embroiled in a dispute over intelligence regarding Iraq.

At a joint news conference with his Japanese counterpart, Junichiro Koizumi, Prime Minister Blair tried to keep the focus on security and economic issues. He included Britain's support for making Japan a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

Mr. Blair repeated denials that intelligence documents used to justify the invasion of Iraq had been exaggerated. That opened the door to questions about the apparent suicide of David Kelly.

Mr. Blair refused to discuss Mr. Kelly's death in any detail, however. He refused to be baited by questions of whether Mr. Kelly's death was "on his conscience," or whether he was "hiding" behind an official inquiry. He would only repeat what he had said earlier in the day.

"There is going to be a full and independent inquiry. I think we should make our judgment after we get the fact; and I think that in the meantime, we should show respect and restraint," prime minister Blair said.

Mr. Kelly had acknowledged speaking to a BBC journalist, who reported that an aide to Mr. Blair had insisted on releasing assertions about Iraqi weapons that British intelligence experts found questionable. On Friday, Mr. Kelly was found dead.

The Bush administration is also under fire for allegedly using questionable intelligence to justify the war against Iraq.

Regarding North Korea, Mr. Blair agreed with Prime Minister Koizumi that discussions of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program had to be multilateral in nature, and had to include all of North Korea's neighbors.

He welcomed the "constructive engagement" of China, but added: "I have no doubt at all, however, that in this multilateral discussion ... as well as the involvement of America and China, Japan and South Korea have got to be involved, too."

U.S. officials say North Korean diplomats told them that Pyongyang had reprocessed thousands of spent fuel rods, which could provide enough plutonium to build several nuclear weapons.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said in Vienna that North Korea poses the world's "most serious" threat of nuclear proliferation.