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British Cabinet Member Threatens Resignation Over Blair's Iraq Policy - 2003-03-10

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he remains focused on getting a U.N. resolution that could pave the way for war against Iraq, despite the threatened resignation of a senior Cabinet officer. The international development secretary has blasted the Blair policy on Iraq as "reckless."

A firestorm of controversy is swirling across Britain over the threatened resignation of Clare Short.

The outspoken Ms. Short has delivered a blunt message to Prime Minister Blair by publicly calling his support of President Bush's hard-line on Iraq "extraordinarily reckless."

She has told British radio she will resign as international development secretary if Britain joins a U.S.-led war against Iraq without U.N. authorization.

"If there is not U.N. authority for military action, or if there is not U.N. authority for the reconstruction of the country, I will not uphold a breach of international law or this undermining of the U.N., and I will resign from the government," Ms. Short said.

Prime Minister Blair's spokesman says the threat came as a surprise, and without warning.

Mr. Blair has not demanded Ms. Short's resignation, though they have spoken twice since her interview. However, when reporters asked the Blair spokesman if the prime minister still has full confidence in Ms. Short, he declined to answer.

Instead, the spokesman said Mr. Blair is focused on consulting other world leaders to win support for a U.N. resolution that would pave the way for war, if Iraq does not meet a short deadline to disarm.

One of Mr. Blair's loyalists, former cabinet office minister Jack Cunningham, told British radio he considers it "perverse" that ministers should threaten to resign at this juncture.

"Colleagues should calm down and await the outcome of these discussions in the United Nations," he said. "No decision has been taken yet, and it's premature for people to be saying, 'I must resign now. I must speak out now. I must threaten to resign now,' when the prime minister is following the course they have specifically and persistently asked him to follow, namely to seek an international solution to this through the United Nations."

Mr. Cunningham says the split in the Blair cabinet can only bring a smile to the face of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who, he says, continues to defy the international community over his weapons programs.