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Death of Weapons Inspector Overshadows Blair's E. Asia Tour - 2003-07-20


British Prime Minister Tony Blair has rejected suggestions that he shorten his Asian tour and recall Parliament because of the suicide of a government scientist embroiled in a dispute over the war in Iraq.

In an interview from Japan with Britain's Sky News, Prime Minister Blair said it would be inappropriate to recall Parliament over the death of government scientist David Kelly. British police confirmed Saturday that Mr. Kelly's body was found near his home in England, apparently having killed himself.

He had been named as a possible source for a BBC news story suggesting that Mr. Blair's aides exaggerated intelligence about Baghdad's suspected weapons of mass destruction, in order to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Mr. Blair, who met with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun Sunday on the second leg of his Asian tour, has ordered a judicial inquiry into Mr. Kelly's death. At a joint press conference with South Korea's president, he again refused to be drawn into a detailed discussion of the controversy.

"Of course there are things that I will talk about to the inquiry, as will others," he said. "But I think the right and proper process is that I speak to the judge who is head of the inquiry, in the way other people will."

The scandal has somewhat eclipsed the main reason for the British leader's trip to Asia: offering support for a peaceful end to the dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

In Seoul, as in Tokyo the day before, Mr. Blair voiced support for multilateral negotiations to end the nuclear stand-off. He said South Korea and Japan must have a role in finding a solution to the crisis, along with the United States, China and North Korea.

Mr. Blair and President Roh both voiced optimism that a peaceful solution could be found. Asked why North Korea was being treated differently from Iraq, Mr. Blair said the history was different, even though the urgency was the same.

"The issue of weapons of mass destruction and unstable states proliferating such weapons is a challenge for the whole of the international community, and North Korea is a part of that situation," explained Mr. Blair.

The meeting between the two leaders came as U.S. officials confirmed a report that Pyongyang may have built a secret plant for making weapons-grade plutonium.

North Korea has long had a nuclear facility in Yongbyon. But U.S. officials say analysis of gases released into the North Korean atmosphere suggest the existence of another, previously unknown plant.

The current nuclear dispute flared last October, when the United States said North Korea admitted to running a nuclear weapons program in violation of an agreement with the United States. The North escalated tensions earlier this month when it said it had reprocessed enough spent nuclear fuel for several nuclear bombs. Washington is investigating this claim.

Mr. Blair traveled on Sunday night to China, North Korea's only significant ally, for the third and final leg of his trip.