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Australia Appears Ready to Support US Against Iraq - 2003-03-13


Australia's Prime Minister John Howard, during a nationally televised speech from parliament in Canberra, says that if the U-N Security Council fails to support the United States in disarming Iraq, biological, chemical and nuclear weapons could find their way to terrorists. At the same time, opinion polls show the number of Australians opposed to war is growing.

This is the strongest hint yet that Australia is ready to fight alongside the United States in Iraq without the support of the United Nations. The Prime Minister is warning the Security Council that if the new resolution is not adopted, it would be a victory for Saddam Hussein. Giving weapons inspectors more time was not an option, he says, because Saddam would continue to stall and the threat would remain.

Much of Mr. Howard's 40-minute address focused on how disarming Iraq would reduce the threat of atrocities being carried out throughout the world. "I have the strongest possible belief that the world must confront the Twin Evils of the spread of weapons of mass destruction… and the danger of those weapons falling into the hands of international terrorists," he said. " But the world has paid a very heavy price in turnings its back on immediate difficulties because of the short pain involved, only to find further down the track, inevitably, the need to confront those same difficulties but at an infinitely greater cost."

Mr. Howard says if the international community failed to deal with Iraq, then it had no hope of disciplining North Korea, which had blatantly violated its nuclear obligations. It was, he insisted, the greatest challenge the world had faced for generations.

Public opinion polls in Australia show the prime minister is increasingly at odds with the populace. As of last week, the majority disapproves of Australian forces taking part in military action without U.N. backing. Another poll showed more than half of the public fears North Korea more than Iraq.

Australia's conservative government has been one of the strongest supporters of the U.S. initiative to disarm Baghdad. It has deployed 2,000 troops to the Gulf, which is a small number compared those of the United States and Britain. But the deployment is seen here as very significant.

Outside Parliament as Mr. Howard spoke, hundreds of protesters staged another noisy anti-war demonstration.