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Britain Warns Time Running Out for Iraq - 2003-01-27

Britain says international patience with Iraq is coming to an end in the stalemate over Baghdad's suspected arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw addressed the issue as European Union foreign ministers gathered in Brussels to discuss the Iraq crisis.

Mr. Straw said time is running out for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to comply with U.N. disarmament resolutions. He said Iraq still has not explained what happened to thousands of tons of chemicals and nerve agents it possessed in 1998 before U.N. weapons inspectors pulled out.

Mr. Straw spoke before entering a meeting of EU foreign ministers to discuss the showdown with Iraq. The meeting came just hours before a report to the Security Council by chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix.

The former chief of U.N. inspectors in Iraq, Richard Butler, told British radio that Mr. Blix was under tremendous pressure as the world awaited his report. "The greatest pressure he faces is on the objectivity of his report, knowing if he says that Iraq isn't in full compliance that might be used as a cause for war," he said.

Mr. Butler said he has no doubt that Iraq still has a weapons of mass destruction program despite Baghdad's denials. However, he says it would be in his view illegal for the United States to lead a war against Iraq unless the Security Council approves it.

One of Britain's opposition leaders, Charles Kennedy of the Liberal Democrat party, told British radio he is extremely gloomy about the prospects of war with Iraq.

He said Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush have not made a sufficiently strong case that military action is warranted. "We do not approve of Saddam Hussein," he said. "He's obviously a tyrant, a dreadful, baleful presence internationally. But I think that most people would prefer to place their faith in Kofi Annan and the United Nations than in the more bellicose statements that emanate from time to time from in and around the American administration."

Meanwhile, the London Times newspaper reports that Britain will push for a new and final deadline for Iraq to comply with disarmament resolutions or face war. The paper reports that the deadline could be set for early March, and is likely to be the focus of deliberations at the Security Council this week.