Former President Clinton urged America and Britain on Wednesday to give U.N. weapons inspections a chance to work in Iraq, saying they should be backed by a tough new resolution from the U.N. Security Council.
He said weapons inspectors had made real progress in uncovering Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction in the 1990s. The Bush administration says inspections have not worked in the past.
"I believe we have to stay at this business until we get all those biological and chemical weapons out of there,'' Clinton told the annual meeting of the center-left Labor Party in the northern English resort of Blackpool. "If the inspections go forward, perhaps we can avoid a conflict ... Until they fail we don't have to cross bridges we would prefer not to cross.''
"Saddam Hussein, as usual, is bobbing and weaving,'' Clinton continued. "We should call his bluff.''
On Tuesday, U.N negotiators struck a deal with Iraq for the return of inspectors for the first time in four years, but the United States and Britain are demanding a new Security Council resolution authorizing force against Saddam if he fails to comply.
The former president, a frequent visitor to Britain, where he is warmly received, said he backed the tough stance by Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair.
He said action against Saddam should be taken through the United Nations if at all possible, although he recalled that Britain and the United States had successfully fought in Kosovo without U.N. backing.
Clinton said Blair, his political soul mate while he was in office, had played a key role in trying to help the United States and its allies understand one another's views on Iraq.
"I appreciate what the prime minister is trying to do in terms of bringing America and the rest of the world to a common position,'' the former president said. "If he weren't there to do this, I doubt if anyone else could.''
He also said a change of regime in Iraq should ideally be achieved through nonmilitary means, such as supporting opposition groups.
Clinton said America's "most pressing security challenge is to finish the job against Al Qaeda and its leaders. I would support committing even more forces to that.''
He said last week that he thought the United States could simultaneously pursue Al Qaeda and pressure Saddam.
The audience cheered when Clinton said he disagreed with Bush about "almost everything,'' criticizing the president's environmental policies, tax cut and approach to health care.
Clinton's presence in Blackpool has brought excitement to this brash resort town.
Forsaking British fish and chips for American fast food, he surprised workers at a McDonald's when he dropped by late Tuesday with Hollywood star Kevin Spacey, who joined him on a just-ended trip to Africa.