British Prime Minister Tony Blair says U.N. weapons inspectors need more time to do their job in Iraq, and there will be no deadline on January 27 when an inspectors' report is due. Mr. Blair discussed the issue with his cabinet Thursday.
Mr. Blair's spokesman has told reporters the prime minister briefed his cabinet on Iraq, and explained that the U.N. weapons inspections are in an early stage.
The spokesman quoted Mr. Blair as saying the inspectors "must be given the time and space they need to do their job."
Mr. Blair also rejected speculation that a deadline is approaching on January 27, the day chief inspector Hans Blix is due to make a formal progress report to the U.N. Security Council.
Among the cabinet officers briefed by Mr. Blair was House of Commons leader Robin Cook, who carried the prime minister's message to parliament. "We want to make sure that the inspectors are able to carry out their task," he said. "A very good time to do so. Adequate resources to do so. And that the authority they have been given by the Security Council is fully respected by the government of Iraq."
The chairman of parliament's foreign affairs committee, Donald Anderson, told British television the Blair statement is intended to quell speculation that war with Iraq is imminent. "I think there is a general attempt to quiet things down a bit and try to reduce expectations," said Donald Anderson.
Mr. Blair also could be attempting to calm down the anti-war wing of his ruling Labor party. Britain's left-leaning Guardian newspaper reported Thursday that up to 100 members of parliament are preparing to rebel, and junior ministers could resign, if a war started against Iraq without U.N. backing.