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Blair Defends Hard-Line Position on Iraq - 2003-01-15

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has vigorously defended his hard-line on Iraq, from critics who say the British people do not support a war. Mr. Blair also said he believes the United Nations will back a second resolution to authorize military force, if Iraq thwarts U.N. weapons inspections.

Mr. Blair has been criticized by church leaders, dissidents in his own Labor party, and media commentators who say he is too supportive of President Bush in the showdown with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

In parliament Wednesday, Elfyn Llwyd, a lawmaker from the Welsh party, challenged Mr. Blair to defend his Iraq policy. "How could it possibly be right to risk the lives of young British servicemen and women in a venture in Iraq, which doesn't have the backing of international law, nor indeed the support of the majority of the British people," Mr. Llwyd said. Mr. Blair reacted angrily, pounding the lectern as he said Iraq must be confronted now, because its weapons threaten world security, and could someday end up in the hands of terrorists.

"Does anyone believe that if we don't take a stand as an international community now in respect to weapons of mass destruction that some terrorist group is not in the future going to get hold of this material, and use it? And supposing I came along in August of 2001 and said to him: 'There's an al-Qaida terrorist network.' Nobody would have heard of them. I would have said: 'We've got to invade Afghanistan in order to deal with it.' No one would have believed it was necessary," he said. "And yet, my goodness, a few weeks later thousands of people were killed on the streets of New York. Now, I simply say to him, this is a difficult time," Mr. Blair explained. "I understand the concerns that people have. But sometimes the job of a prime minister is to say the things people don't want them to say, but which we believe are necessary to say because the threat is real, and if we don't deal with it, then the consequences are our weakness will haunt future generations," he said.

Mr. Blair also tried to calm the fears of lawmakers who say Britain cannot blindly follow the United States into a war with Iraq without support from the United Nations.

The prime minister said he believes the U.N. will approve a new resolution authorizing military force, if Iraq defies U.N. weapons inspections. But he does not rule out acting without U.N. support, if a Security Council member vetoes such a resolution.