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UK PM: 'There is no rush to war'

PM: 'There is no rush to war'

The Prime Minister has held his monthly press conference at Downing Street where he started by making an opening statement on Iraq.

The Prime Minister said:

"Iraqi cooperation is not the impossible demand of a western world intent on rushing to war, but the reasonable and easily delivered requirement of the international community which has been seeking peaceful disarmament for 12 years."

The Prime Minister said that at yesterday's EU Summit no one disputed that Saddam's 'co-operation is neither unconditional nor complete'.

Mr Blair said the stance the world takes against Saddam Hussein is a 'huge test of our seriousness in dealing with the twin threats of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism'. Mr Blair said terrorist groups are 'desperate' to acquire even more dangerous weapons and are already using chemical and biological poisons.

The basis for this action is to disarm Saddam, Mr Blair said. Iraq has still not accounted for 360 tonnes of chemical warfare agent, including one and a half tonnes of VX nerve agent, he added.

The Prime Minister also highlighted how the Iraqi people have suffered under Saddam's regime. This included:

- 4 million Iraqis exiled;
- 60% of the Iraqi population now dependent on food aid;
- thousands of children die before the age of 5, which Mr Blair said was entirely preventable;
- where tens of thousands of political prisoners are in jail and hundreds are routinely executed, over 150,000 Shia Muslims in southern Iraq and Muslim Kurds in Northern Iraq have been murdered, or disappeared in the last 15 years.

Even though the nature of the regime cannot itself provide justification for war, said Mr Blair, if military action is taken 'we do so in the sure knowledge that we are removing one of the most barbarous and detestable regimes in modern political history.'

Mr Blair's concluded his opening remarks by saying:

"There is no inexorable decision to go to war, but there is an inexorable decision to disarm Saddam Hussein. How that happens is up to Saddam."

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