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Blair defends Iraq WMD reports

Blair
Blair: I believe the intelligence was correct.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Intelligence reports suggesting Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction were correct, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said in an interview with a Sunday newspaper.

Blair said he believed in the intelligence material presented to him ahead of last year's conflict, despite the subsequent failure of coalition forces to find WMD in Iraq.

Blair made the comments shortly before U.S. official David Kay quit his job as head of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), the body tasked with locating Saddam's alleged WMD.

Kay signed off by saying he did not believe there were stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq. (Full story)

Interviewed by The Observer, Blair was pressed on whether he still believed that weapons would be found, despite the ISG's failure to date to uncover such evidence.

"I can only tell you I believed the intelligence we had at the time. It is absurd to say in respect of any intelligence that it is infallible, but if you ask me what I believe, I believe the intelligence was correct, and I think in the end we will have an explanation.

"I have absolutely no doubt at all in my mind that the intelligence was genuine."

Asked if the weapons will be found, Blair said: "Well that is something that the Iraq Survey Group is going to have to find. All I can say is that prior to the conflict, during the conflict, immediately after the conflict, we were having meetings, discussions, taking precautions precisely on that basis."

Blair acknowledged that Wednesday's publication of the Hutton report into the apparent suicide of government weapons expert David Kelly would put his integrity under the spotlight.

"I think in this job you spend the entire time at risk, so there is not a moment when you are not," he said.

"The issue vis-a-vis my integrity is did we receive the intelligence and was it properly relayed to people? And obviously I believe that we did.

"The Conservative leader (Michael Howard) in particular has accused me of lying over weapons of mass destruction, and as far as the report touches on these issues it will be important."

Blair told the newspaper that he had "every intention" of still being in his job at the end of the coming week.

Meanwhile, The Sunday Telegraph newspaper said it had been told by aides to Blair that the prime minister has not received a letter from Lord Hutton warning him of potential criticism in the final report.

The newspaper says that suggests that Blair will not face direct condemnation.


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