Published September 10, 2002
LONDON – Saddam Hussein must comply with United Nations resolutions or "action will follow," Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday in an uncompromising address to a skeptical audience of trade union officials.
"Let it be clear that there can be no more conditions, no more games, no more prevaricating, no more undermining of the U.N.'s authority," Blair told the annual meeting of the Trade Union Congress in the northwest English resort of Blackpool.
"And let it be clear that should the will of the U.N. be ignored, action will follow."
Blair has firmly supported President Bush's tough line against Iraq, but the British leader has faced opposition in his own Labor Party, from church leaders and from union activists. At the union session, where several speakers came out against an attack on Iraq, Blair's speech was received politely but with no applause for his Iraq comments.
The United Nations demands that Iraq allow in weapons inspectors to ensure that Baghdad's programs to develop and store weapons of mass destruction are eliminated. Iraq says it no longer has such weapons and refuses to talk about resuming inspections without parallel talks on lifting sanctions.
Senior U.S. officials said Bush planned to urge the United Nations on Thursday to demand that Saddam open his weapons sites to unfettered inspections or face punitive action.
"I believe it is right to deal with Saddam through the United Nations," Blair said.
"After all, it is the will of the U.N. he is flouting. He, not me or George Bush, is in breach of U.N. Resolutions. If the challenge to us is to work with the U.N., we will respond to it.
"But if we do so, then the challenge to all in the U.N. is this: the U.N. must be the way to resolve the threat from Saddam not avoid it."
Blair said diplomatic steps were vital but must be backed by the "certain knowledge in the dictator's mind that behind the diplomacy is the possibility of force being used."
"Because I say to you in all earnestness: If we do not deal with the threat from this international outlaw and his barbaric regime, it may not erupt and engulf us this month or next, perhaps not even this year or the next. But it will at some point. And I do not want it on my conscience that we knew the threat, saw it coming and did nothing," Blair said.
"I know this is not what some people want to hear. But I ask you only this: to listen to the case I will be developing over the coming weeks and reflect on it."
Blair added: "I totally understand the concerns of people about precipitate military action. Military action should only ever be a last resort."
Some lawmakers have demanded that Blair recall Parliament from its summer recess to debate the Iraq issue.
One Labor lawmaker, Graham Allen, said Tuesday that he intended to hire a hall to convene an unofficial Parliamentary debate next week if there is no formal recall.
"I believe that Parliament's role is to act as a sounding board, to actually give advice, perhaps to hold the prime minister to account. But all those things are being denied to us at the moment until Oct. 15th," when the recess ends, Allen said in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
Parliament has not convened without being summoned by the government since the 17th century.
Blair told union delegates that before taking any military action, "I can categorically assure you that Parliament will be consulted and will have the fullest opportunity to debate the matter and express its view."
However, he did not announce a date for such a debate.
Blair characterized Saddam's government as "the world's worst regime: brutal, dictatorial, with a wretched human rights record."
"Given that history, I say to you: to allow him to use the weapons he has or get the weapons he wants would be an act of gross irresponsibility and we should not countenance it," Blair said.
"I believe it is right to deal with Saddam through the United Nations. After all, it is the will of the U.N. he is flouting.
"He, not me or George Bush, is in breach of U.N. resolutions. If the challenge to us is to work with the U.N., we will respond to it.
"But if we do so, then the challenge to all in the U.N. is this: The U.N. must be the way to resolve the threat from Saddam, not avoid it."