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Australia Urges UN to Take Action Against Iraq - 2003-01-28

Australia is urging the United Nations to take action against Baghdad, a day after U.N. weapons inspectors presented what Canberra calls a "damning" report on Iraq. Australia is one of three nations that have already sent troops to the Persian Gulf to prepare for a possible military campaign to disarm Iraq. Australian Prime Minister John Howard says U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix presented a report Monday that is even more critical of Iraq than many predicted.

Mr. Blix says in the last two months his team found that Iraq is not in compliance with U.N. disarmament resolution 1441. He said key questions still need to be answered about where are Iraq's thousands of chemical weapons warheads and stockpiles of anthrax and VX nerve gas.

Mr. Howard says the latest U.N. resolution on Iraq calls for action against Iraq if Baghdad was found to be in breach of its international commitments.

The Australian prime minister says this is now clearly the case and the United Nations must act or lose its credibility. "It really does now put the spotlight back on the Security Council, I mean they passed that resolution. It's a very tough comprehensive resolution, presumably at 15 to nil they meant what they were saying," he said.

China, France and Russia, three of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, want U.N. inspectors to have more time to find any banned weapons before considering the next step.

Mr. Howard says he favors only a small extension of time for inspectors - but he doubted it would make a difference. Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says the inspector's report is very damning and Iraq must now fully cooperate with inspectors to avoid war.

"They better very quickly announce a substantial policy change approach to how they are dealing with the United Nations," he said.

Australia has already dispatched troops to the Gulf, joining British and U.S. forces preparing for a possible war against Iraq.

President Bush has said the United States may be willing to use force with or without U.N. backing.

Australia has been a staunch U.S. ally on this issue, but has yet to definitely commit to a military strike.

Opinion polls show 62 percent of Australians oppose involvement in any military action against Iraq.