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Blair warns of WMD terror threat

Blair: September 11 persuaded him to act against rogue states, he said.
Blair: September 11 persuaded him to act against rogue states, he said.

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• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
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Acts of terror
September 11 attacks
Tony Blair

LONDON, England (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has warned of the "real" threat of international terrorism and how it has to be confronted at all costs.

Blair, speaking to an invited audience in his Sedgefield constituency in northeast England on Friday, mounted a detailed defense of the war against Iraq -- and made his firmest link yet between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

The international community must face up to the "mortal danger" posed by al Qaeda and its allies, Blair said.

"The 21st century is unconventional in almost every respect," he said.

"That is also true of our security. The threat we face is not conventional. It is a challenge of a different nature from anything the world has faced before."

Governments could not "err on the side of caution" when dealing with threat of global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, he said.

CNN's Matthew Chance said that the timing of Blair's speech -- his popularity has slumped since he took the decision to join the U.S.-led war against Iraq -- was no coincidence.

What was interesting, Chance said, was Blair's attempt to justify the Iraq war in the framework of the greater threat of international terrorism.

Blair passionately defended the Iraq war, saying the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington came as a "revelation" to him and persuaded him of the need to act against rogue states.

He argued that the international community had a "duty and a right to prevent the threat materializing" and to stop a regime brutally oppressing its people.

"The threat we face is not conventional. It is a challenge of a different nature from anything the world has faced before. It is to the world's security, what globalization is to the world's economy. It was defined not by Iraq but by September 11.

"September 11 did not create the threat Saddam posed. But it altered crucially the balance of risk as to whether to deal with it or simply carry on, however imperfectly, trying to contain it," Blair said.

The British PM acknowledged that his decision to go to war was the most divisive he had ever made, conceding "it remains deeply divisive today."

He said: "The nature of this issue over Iraq, stirring such bitter emotions as it does, can't just be swept away as ill-fitting the preoccupations of the man and woman on the street."

That was because the nature of the "global threat we face in Britain and round the world is real and existential and it is the task of leadership to expose it and fight it, whatever the political cost."

Former chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said Friday the Iraq war was illegal, raising fresh concerns over the UK attorney general's advice on the use of military action.

In an interview in The Independent newspaper, Blix said a U.N. resolution explicitly authorizing the use of force should have been adopted to justify the conflict.

"I don't buy the argument the war was legalized by the Iraqi violation of earlier resolutions," he told the British newspaper.

Blix dismissed suggestions that Blair should resign over the failure to find WMD in Iraq, but suggested the prime minister's credibility had been affected.

"Some people say (U.S. President George W.) Bush and Blair should be put before a tribunal, and I say that you have the punishment in the political field here. Their credibility has been affected by this: Bush too lost some credibility," he said.

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