INTERNATIONAL

Time is up for Iraq, says Britain

LONDON JAN. 28. Britain warned today that the prospects of a military action in Iraq had increased in the wake of the United Nations arms inspectors' report accusing Baghdad of misleading them and not cooperating fully in tracking down its weapons of mass destruction.

The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said the report clearly established that the Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, had reduced the inspection process to a "charade'', and there was clear evidence that he was in material breach of the U.N. Security Council resolution on the issue. The case against Iraq had been strengthened following the inspectors' report, he said.

Declaring that the "time is up'' for Iraq, Mr. Straw warned that the chances of resolving the crisis peacefully had receded and it was now entirely up to Iraq to avoid a military conflict. "The chances of this being resolved by peaceful means are less than they were because of Iraq's unbelievable refusal to comply with the terms of the (U.N.) resolution,'' he told BBC on Tuesday morning even as Labour MPs prepared to step up pressure on the Government not to plunge the country into a U.S.-led war without a fresh U.N. mandate and a vote in Parliament.

Mr. Straw's tone was widely described as "bellicose'' and in sharp contrast to his remarks a few weeks ago that the threat of a war had diminished.

There was a clear hardening of British stance in the wake of the chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix's report, which was seen here as vindicating the Prime Minister, Tony Blair's bleak view of the Saddam regime.

It was also seized upon to claim vindication for Mr Blair's stand that the onus was on Mr. Hussein to prove that he did not possess weapons of mass destruction.

In a sign of a new tough line, ahead of Mr. Blair's meeting with the U.S. President, George W. Bush, in Washington on Friday, it was being suggested today that military action need not necessarily depend on the discovery of a "smoking gun''.

Mr. Hussein's failure to cooperate with the inspectors' team should be treated as sufficient ground to press for use of force to disarm him, it was said. But Labour MPs, who are opposed to a war, insisted that the inspectors should be given more time to complete their work.

At a meeting of the party's national executive, members opposed a pre-emptive military action, saying the inspectors' report did not make a case for an invasion.

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