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Only Military Threat Will Force Saddam to Disarm, says British Defense Minister - 2003-02-24

British Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon says Britain remains ready to join the United States in a possible war against Iraq, if Saddam Hussein does not give up suspected weapons of mass destruction.

The British defense secretary said his country believes Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will never comply with U.N. demands to disarm, unless they are backed up by a credible military threat. "For some, conflict of any sort will never be excusable. I have respect for those who hold such firm, moral positions. But I believe that history, sadly, proves them comprehensively wrong. Saddam Hussein is a man who has never, not once, acted reasonably, unless he has been threatened with a forceful alternative," Mr. Hoon said.

The United States and Britain are expected to introduce a second resolution to the U.N. Security Council early this week. The resolution would declare Iraq in violation of obligations to disarm under Resolution 14-41, passed by the Security Council in November. Resolution 14-41 threatened "serious consequences," if Iraq did not comply.

But the second resolution faces stiff opposition from several council members, including veto-wielding France, which favors continued weapons inspections.

Mr. Hoon said not presenting a united front against Saddam Hussein would send a dangerous message to the Iraqi leader. "It would be a victory for Saddam Hussein, indeed, if he were able to walk away from the situation, maintaining his considerable stockpile of weapons, with his grip on power in Iraq enhanced, and, indeed, having undermined the United Nations itself," he said.

The British defense secretary is meeting with Kuwaiti officials and visiting British troops in the northern Kuwaiti desert.

Britain has committed some 42,000 troops to the possible war in Iraq, but only about a third of them are in place in the Gulf. Remaining troops, tanks, and heavy armor are expected to arrive sometime in the next 10-days.

On this trip, Mr. Hoon is also scheduled to visit Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.