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Blair, Aznar Doubtful About Iraq's Promise to Disarm - 2003-02-28

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has dismissed Iraq's statement it has agreed in principle to destroy its Al-Samoud 2 missiles, as demanded by the chief U.N. weapons inspector. Mr. Blair, speaking after talks with his Spanish counterpart in Madrid Friday, said Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein never makes concessions, unless he is threatened with force.

Mr. Blair said Iraq's announcement that it intends to dismantle its Al-Samoud 2 missiles has only come about under pressure. He said this is not the time for Mr. Hussein to play games, but that he must fully rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.

"Although he gives out these concessions as the threat of action comes nearer, he never actually disarms voluntarily as the U.N. has demanded," Mr. Blair said. "This is a moment in particular when we have to remain strong and remain true to the demand that the United Nations has made that he disarms himself of these weapons, cooperates with the inspectors fully and completely, and starts by telling us what has happened to the unaccounted for material that everyone knows was there when the inspectors left - biological, chemical poison."

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, like Mr. Blair, emphasized the role pressure has played.

"Just to picture Saddam's regime taking a single step without extreme pressure from the world is being misguided. In my opinion, that has been more than proven," he said.

Mr. Blair said both Britain and Spain were committed to working through the United Nations to disarm Iraq. He said he was confident the Security Council would approve a new resolution on Iraq.

"That's why this is important, because if the United Nations does not deal with this as a unified international community, then our ability to cope in a unified way with future crises about the same types of issues will be hugely diminished," he said. " That's why we are doing what we are doing."

The new resolution, which says Iraq has failed to disarm, has been submitted by Britain and co-sponsored by the United States and Spain. It has severely divided the council, but diplomats from the three countries say they are working hard to win approval.

During their news conference, Mr. Blair and Mr. Aznar also said they are committed to restarting the Middle East peace process, with the goal of forming a viable Palestinian state and ensuring Israel's security.