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Middle East Peace Process Must be Pushed Forward, Says Britain's Blair - 2003-01-01

Prime Minister Tony Blair delivers a gloomy assessment of Britain's outlook for the new year.

Mr. Blair said Britain faces an unprecedented number of dangers this year.

In a statement released early Wednesday, Mr. Blair said he cannot recall a time when Britain has confronted, simultaneously, such a range of threats.

Topping his list of concerns is Iraq. War, the British leader said, is up to Saddam Hussein. If he does not seize the chance to disarm peacefully, he will have to be disarmed by force, said Mr. Blair.

On another front, he pointed to the ongoing war on terrorism and the remaining threat from al-Qaida. The British leader said the only way to stop being a target is to stop the terrorists.

On the issue of the Middle East, the prime minister acknowledges there will be difficulties in achieving peace, but he said the peace process must be pushed forward whatever the problems.

Mr. Blair said whether Britain survives and prospers or declines in the face of the insecurity facing the country depends crucially on the political decisions Britain takes now.

While commentators here in Britain are describing the message as the prime minister's gloomiest ever New Year's assessment, the British leader did find something to be at least slightly optimistic about. He says Britain is well prepared to face all challenges at home and abroad and his Labor government is determined to confront the problems head on.