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Possibility of War with Iraq Has Increased, says Britain - 2003-01-28

Britain says a report by U.N. weapons inspectors shows that Iraq is in material breach of disarmament resolutions and the prospect of war is closer than it was.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that after seeing the U.N. inspectors' report, he is more pessimistic than he was earlier this month that war can be avoided.

He told British radio on Tuesday that the report by U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix shows Iraq to be in what he called "further material breach" of the latest U.N. disarmament resolution.

"The chances of this being resolved by peaceful means are less than they were because of Iraq's unbelievable refusal properly to comply with the terms of this resolution. There is still an opportunity for Iraq to comply, but it's an opportunity [for] Iraq, not anybody else," Mr. Straw said.

The U.N. Security Council plans to get an update from Mr. Blix on February 14, but Mr. Straw said Iraq should not think it can play a waiting game with the inspectors. "There aren't ultimatums being talked about at the moment, but each of these dates is very significant indeed, and Iraq would be making the most profound mistake if it thought it could go on with it's game-playing any longer. The time is up for Iraq to comply," he said.

Iraq denies it is hiding weapons of mass destruction, but the Blix report said there are thousands of tons of unaccounted for chemical and biological agents and 6,500 missing warheads.

Mr. Straw spoke as the Britain and the United States continue their military buildup in the Persian Gulf region. Britain and the United States have threatened military action on their own against Iraq if it fails to disarm and the Security Council does not act.

If the Security Council does find that Iraq is in material breach of disarmament resolutions, it could vote to sanction a war.