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Britain: Return of Weapons Inspectors to Iraq Could Stave off War - 2002-08-22

Britain says a U.S.-led military attack against Iraq would be less likely if Baghdad allows the return of United Nations' weapons inspectors. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says the threat of military action against Iraq would recede, if U.N. weapons inspections could resume.

Mr. Straw told British radio that military action cannot be ruled out, as long as Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein poses a security threat. "If Saddam Hussein allows weapons inspectors back, without condition, then the circumstances will change, because what everybody is concerned about is the threat, which Saddam Hussein poses to the security of the region and the security of the world," he said. "And the best way of trying to isolate and reduce that threat is by the introduction of weapons inspections."

Mr. Straw also played down speculation that the United States is anxious to go to war in Iraq to achieve what President Bush calls 'regime change' in Baghdad. "I don't believe from all my discussions with the Americans that they think that military action is the option of choice," Mr. Straw said. "I happen to know, they would, obviously, much prefer that this be resolved in a peaceful manner, because the risks for them and their interests, as well as for everybody else, are so much greater."

Mr. Straw says Britain also would welcome a change in the government in Iraq, but it is not a foreign policy objective.

He promised there will be a debate in parliament, if Britain's Cabinet makes a decision to go to war in Iraq.

A faction in the ruling Labor party opposes any military action in Iraq. Some members of the opposition Conservative party also have voiced concern. And a number of members of parliament have called for a debate before the Cabinet decides on the matter.

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have met twice since March to discuss how to respond to Iraq's refusal to allow U.N. weapons inspectors to return. The United Nations pulled out the inspectors in 1998, on the eve of U.S. and British air strikes.