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Australian PM to Discuss Iraq Situation in Washington, London - 2003-02-03

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has announced he will go to Washington and London next week to discuss a possible military response to disarm Iraq. And the prime minister will also address Parliament on Tuesday to spur a debate on his administration's controversial support for the U.S. hard-line stand on Iraq.

Prime Minister John Howard says he hopes his meetings with President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair next week will help find a peaceful solution to divesting Iraq of its suspected weapons of mass destruction.

But in a nationally televised address Monday, Mr. Howard said he overwhelmingly supports a second U.N. resolution to unite world opinion on possible military action against Baghdad.

Australia is the only country to join Britain and the United States in sending troops to the Persian Gulf in preparation for a confrontation. A number of U.N. Security Council members want to give weapons inspectors more time to verify whether Iraq is hiding biological, chemical and nuclear weapons - and are resisting a U.S.-British push to act sooner.

But Mr. Howard said last week's U.N. inspectors' report shows that Iraq is not complying with U.N. demands for full disclosure of its weapons programs and disarmament - and the United Nations must take decisive action to maintain its credibility as a world body.

Despite the tough rhetoric, the Australian prime minister has yet to commit himself to a U.S. led military strike, with or without U.N. backing. He faces growing opposition to a possible war, with almost two-thirds of Australians against military action.

Here in Sydney, most residents expressed grave concerns. Large anti-war demonstrations are planned across Australia in the coming weeks.

In Canberra, the political opposition has criticized Mr. Howard. Labor Party leader Simon Crean says the prime minister is marching blindly into war without consulting the Parliament or the people.

But Mr. Howard says he will make a detailed statement to lawmakers Tuesday to trigger debate on the Iraq issue.