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British, Australian PMs Stand By Decision to Go to War With Iraq

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he remains convinced that going to war against Iraq was justified. Mr. Blair is at the center of a political firestorm following allegations his government exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction in order to justify the invasion.

The question of whether the invasion of Iraq was justified has followed Mr. Blair throughout his tour of East Asia, and the question arose again when he visited Beijing's Tsinghua University on Tuesday.

In reply to a question, Mr. Blair told students that attacking Iraq was the right thing to do. "No I don't regret it. I believe, no matter how difficult it was, it was the right thing to do. I took that decision because I thought it was right for my country and right for the world, and I still believe it was. So we have to, in the end, as political leaders, stand by the decisions we make," he said.

The U.S.-led coalition justified its attack in part by saying Iraq posed a serious threat to its neighbors and the world, because President Saddam Hussein had developed, or was trying to develop, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Mr. Blair said experts are combing Iraq for evidence of the weapons programs, and he is confident such evidence will eventually be found.

A member of the student audience in Beijing asked Mr. Blair about the apparent suicide of British weapons expert David Kelly. Mr. Kelly was named as the source of the controversial BBC news story saying Mr. Blair's government had exaggerated Iraq's weapons capability to justify the attack.

The prime minister expressed sorrow over the death, and said an investigation will look into the matter.

Criticism over the Iraq war is also hitting Australia's prime minister, John Howard, a strong supporter of the invasion, who sent 2,000 Australian troops to join the coalition.

A newspaper poll shows that 67 percent of the people questioned thought they had been misled. Of the 1,200 people in the survey, about one-third said the deception was deliberate, while about the same number thought it was accidental.

On Tuesday, Mr. Howard denied that he misled the public about the justification for the invasion. He said he "acted in good faith," and did not manipulate intelligence assessments of the weapons threat from Iraq.

In spite of the controversy, an opinion poll still shows Mr. Howard with a strong lead over his major political rivals.