Blair brands Saddam 'outlaw'
BLACKPOOL, England -- UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has branded Saddam Hussein an "international outlaw" in charge of a "barbaric regime" that has to be dealt with.
But he told a Trades Union Congress conference in Blackpool on Tuesday that pre-emptive action should only be carried out as a last resort after discussions have taken place in parliament and the United Nations.
Unionists are among the traditional backers of Blair's Labour Party, but they have been vocal in their opposition to a war on Iraq.
The European Union has voiced strong opposition to U.S. unilateral action or even multilateral action without further proof of Iraq's threat and U.N. backing.
French President Jacques Chirac, who has been supportive of tackling the issue through the U.N., moved towards a solution when he proposed on Tuesday putting forward U.N. Security Council resolution giving Baghdad a three-week deadline for letting weapons inspectors back before a second vote on the use of military force. (Full story)
Washington is also looking to be more conciliatory towards a U.N. answer, and President George W. Bush is to address the General Assembly on Thursday.
Blair told the TUC that like Kosovo and Afghanistan before, the government will take "responsible and measured" action.
But he also warned of the dangers of not doing anything against the "brutal" Baghdad regime with its "wretched human rights" record.
"If we do not deal with the threat from this international outlaw and his barbaric regime, it may not erupt and engulf us this month or next, perhaps not even this year or the next. But it will at some point.
"And I do not want it on my conscience that we knew the threat, saw it coming and did nothing."
Blair was forced to cancel his speech at last year's TUC conference because of the terrorist strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The prime minister told the congress on Tuesday that had he addressed last year's conference on September 10 to warn about the threat from al Qaeda and call for action, many TUC members would have been sceptical.
He said a similar situation confronts the world now.
With Afghanistan's Taliban out of power, "Saddam is unrivaled as the world's worst regime."
On Monday the conference voted on a hard-line motion opposing an attack, which was narrowly defeated.
Blair said it must be clear that Saddam had to be disarmed, adding: "Let it be clear that there can be no more conditions, no more games, no more prevaricating, no more undermining of the U.N.'s authority.
"And let it be clear that should the will of the U.N. be ignored, action will follow."
The Labour leader said diplomacy was "vital" but when dealing with the Iraqi president there must be "certain knowledge in the dictator's mind that behind the diplomacy is the possibility of force being used.
"The United Nations must be the way to resolve the threat from Saddam, not a way of avoiding it."
He said Baghdad's weapons of mass destruction pose a real threat which he has already been willing to use on his own people.
"We should do everything we can to stop (Saddam) using weapons he has and getting weapons he wants."
He also accused Iraq of violating 23 U.N. resolutions and the sanctions imposed after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Blair met Bush during the weekend in a three-hour strategy session on Iraq. Hawks in the Bush administration have been making the case for military action to bring down Saddam.
Blair's diplomatic offensive continued on Monday night when he spoke by telephone to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Chirac.
"Both conversations covered the range of issues following from Saddam Hussein's continued violation of UN Security Council resolutions," a Blair spokesman said. "The prime minister will continue to discuss these issues with other leaders."
France holds veto power on the U.N. Security Council, and Chirac did not say if France would support such a resolution if the three-week deadline was not met.
Also Monday, Danish leader Anders Fogh Rasmussen -- whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency -- called Saddam a "mad dictator." And Dutch leader Jan-Peter Balkenende said Iraq should allow inspectors and that military force should be a last resort.
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