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Blair in stark warning to Saddam

Blair faces reporters' questions inside No.10 Downing Street.

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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
•  Weapons: 3D Models

LONDON, England (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he "passionately believes" Iraq should give up its weapons of mass destruction or face being disarmed by force.

"I would never as British prime minister send British troops to war, unless I thought it was necessary, but there is a direct threat to British national security in the trade of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons," he told a televised news briefing.

Blair said he fears that such weapons will fall into the hands of terrorists, "fanatics who will stop at absolutely nothing to cause death and destruction." He added that he is convinced the Iraqi government of President Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, despite its denial to the United Nations.

"We must uphold the ... United Nations, we must show rogue states ... that when we say we intend to deal with the issue, we mean it.

"Whatever happens, Saddam will be disarmed," the British prime minister said. "We have complete and total determination to do this. ... It's not conflict that is inevitable, but disarmament is inevitable."

CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley said Blair was maintaining the pressure on Saddam while walking the tightrope that sees public opinion in Britain opposed to UK troops fighting a war without U.N. backing.

On Sunday a YouGov poll for ITV news showed that just 13 percent would back a war without U.N. approval, although a further 53 percent would accept British involvement in a U.N.-authorised conflict.

Oakley said Blair was saying that war was not inevitable but was saying it in a way that indicated he did not really believe it in his own heart.

He was making it clear that if Saddam did not disarm of his own accord he would be disarmed by force, Oakley said -- saying his big fear was of weapons of mass destruction falling into terrorist hands.

Blair has been the staunchest overseas ally of U.S. President George W. Bush, saying Saddam poses a threat with his alleged development of weapons of mass destruction.

Blair said he believed Saddam's 12,000-page weapons declaration was false but that he would wait for U.N. weapons inspectors to report.

Those inspectors searching for illegal weapons at dozens of Iraqi sites could take about a year to complete their work, International Atomic Energy Agency spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said on Monday. (Inspectors urge patience)

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and IAEA head Mohamed ElBaredei plan to visit Iraq to talk to scientists next weekend.

CNN's Oakley asked Blair if he was prepared to allow the weapons inspectors keep working until the autumn, but the prime minister would not be drawn on a timescale.

Blair said it was his preference that the U.N. should draw up a second specific resolution authorising the use of force at the end of the day if Iraq broke the terms laid out by the Security Council.

But, said Oakley, Blair also made it clear that if any nation or nations scotch plans by the U.N. to authorise that use of force, he is prepared to support President Bush in going for military action against Iraq without U.N. backing.

In related news on Monday, about 100 U.S. military specialists were surveying military bases and facilities in Turkey where the United States would like to station up to 80,000 troops in case of war with Iraq. An agreement signed Friday does not allow U.S. troops to use the bases at this stage.

Meanwhile, about 35 peace activists and academics from 28 U.S. universities descended on Baghdad, trying to convince the government to cooperate with U.N. disarmament requests and avoid a war. The group toured a hospital and planned other visits.

Among those in the group was Bianca Jagger, ex-wife of rock star Mick Jagger and a campaigner for environmental and human rights.

"I'm here, as well, to tell to the Iraqi government: 'You must comply with U.N. resolutions, you must protect your people and prevent a war,'" she said.

"But I'm here especially for Americans to understand that this war will not be a sanitised war ... that there will be children and women who will die. And is that the answer? Is there no other answer, is there no other alternative?"

Britain's Ministry of Defence said on Monday that a "small group" of British army logistics experts had arrived in Iraq's neighbour, Kuwait, to prepare for a possible deployment there. They would be among the first British soldiers to join the United States' deployment.

British reservists have been called up, adding to the thousands of U.S. troops already holding exercises in the Gulf region, and a task force has set sail, its destination believed to be the same area.

At the Vatican on Monday Pope John Paul condemned a possible war in Iraq, saying it could still be avoided and that it would be a defeat for humanity. (Full story)

He made clear his opposition in his yearly "State of the World" address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican, saying diplomacy is the way forward.

"No to war! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity," the 82-year-old pontiff said.

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