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Blair: Iraq attack not imminent

Blair news conference
It was Blair's second White House-style news conference  

LONDON, England -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair says an attack on Iraq is not imminent but held out little hope for negotiations about weapons inspectors returning.

"We are all getting a bit ahead of ourselves," Blair told a news conference in his Downing Street office on Thursday.

"It is not imminent, we are not at the point of decision yet. There are many issues to be considered before we are at the point of decision."

Blair has so far refused to commit to allowing Britain's parliament a vote ahead of any military action aimed at Hussein.

He told the White House-style news conference -- only the second ever in Britain: "I'm not going to commit myself to any particular form of consultation."

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U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has thrown the ball back into Iraq's court on whether to have further talks on arms inspectors, but Baghdad said on Wednesday that any agreement needed to include an end to U.S. threats against the country.

"The omens don't look very good frankly," Blair said. "Is there any point in reviving those negotiations? I don't know. It seems somewhat unlikely that the Iraqis intend to comply with them."

Blair, a staunch ally of President George W. Bush since the September 11 attacks, said in a recent interview with a British magazine that if the time comes for U.S.-led military action against Iraq, "people will have the evidence presented to them" to show that Hussein "is trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction, in particular a nuclear capability."

The U.S. has accused Iraq of being part of an "axis of evil," allegedly supporting terrorism and seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction. International weapons inspectors left Iraq in December 1998 and have not returned.

Many members of Blair's own Labour party oppose any attack against Baghdad and are demanding a say in parliament.

"Saddam is in breach of all the United Nations resolutions," Blair said. "Weapons of mass destruction are an issue. Iraq's position in relation to weapons of mass destruction is an issue but we have taken no decisions as to how to deal with it."

At his last appearance in parliament on Wednesday, before a three-month summer break, Blair was pressed by three of his own Labour Party members over Iraq.

They demanded a fresh U.N. resolution and the chance for British politicians to have a say before any troops were committed to an attack.

He faced a similar onslaught at a closed-door meeting with Labour members of parliament. "We just got the same old stone-walling," one told Reuters.

Blair also said he was not ready at present to publish evidence his government says it possesses about the threat posed by Hussein.

Earlier this year, government officials said a dossier was about to be produced.

Blair began holding White House-style news briefings in June in an apparent effort to improve his strained relations with the British press, which has been sharply critical of him recently over a range of issues, including his government's use of "spin" to manage the news agenda.




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