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Iraq Must be Stopped Before It Uses Chemical, Biological Weapons, says British PM - 2002-09-24

British Prime Minister Tony Blair says Iraq must be stopped before it uses chemical and biological weapons. The prime minister spoke in parliament after releasing a report on Iraq's weapons program.

The British parliament convened a special session to debate the Iraq crisis, amid concerns among many lawmakers about the prospect of Britain joining the United States in a war against Iraq.

Prime Minister Blair tried to defuse concerns that the United States is simply looking for a pretext to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein through what President Bush calls "regime change."

"The ending of this regime would be the cause of regret for no one but Saddam," stressed Mr. Blair. "But our purpose is disarmament. No one wants military conflict. Disarmament of all weapons of mass destruction is the demand. One way or another, it must be acceded to."

Mr. Blair said diplomatic efforts remain focused on getting U.N. weapons inspectors back inside Iraq.

The leader of the opposition Conservative Party, Iain Duncan Smith, said he agrees with Mr. Blair's assessment that Saddam Hussein only acts when threatened, and he said Britain should keep up the pressure.

"War should be the last resort, when all other efforts have failed," said Mr. Duncan Smith. "But Britain should never shy away from its responsibilities in a time of international crisis."

But the leader of Britain's third-biggest party, Charles Kennedy of the Liberal Democrats, said he is uneasy about the concept of regime change.

"It is ill-defined, and it remains so today. It would create a dangerous precedent in international affairs," said Mr. Kennedy. "We have to be clear about the possible consequences of such regime change. What will the reaction be in the rest of the Arab world? And if Saddam's regime falls, what kind of a government is envisaged as a replacement?"

The debate followed release of a government report detailing Iraq's alleged program to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and to lengthen the range of its ballistic missiles.

The report says Saddam Hussein would be able to build a nuclear bomb within one or two years if U.N. sanctions are ended. And it said enhanced Iraqi missiles could hit British military bases in the Mediterranean.

In Baghdad, an Iraqi government official called the British report "baseless."