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Britain: Declaration Gaps Not Grounds for War

Gaps in Iraq's weapons declaration are not in themselves grounds for war, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Thursday, despite his assessment that the document was an "obvious falsehood."

Straw said the Iraqi government would have to obstruct the work of United Nations weapons inspectors to be found in "material breach" of the Security Council's resolution — considered the trigger point for military action.

"The grounds for declaring that there has been a material breach are very clearly set out in the resolution," Straw told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. There would have to be "omissions in the declarations and failure by Iraq to comply and cooperate with inspectors," he said.

On Wednesday, Straw said Saddam Hussein's 12,000-page dossier "will fool nobody" and fell short of the United Nations' demands — a sentiment that was quickly echoed by the White House.

President Bush was scheduled to respond to the declaration later Thursday. On Wednesday White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Bush found "omissions" and "problems" in Iraq's arms declaration.

Straw said Saddam had made "obvious omissions" in the dossier, such as failing to account for the weapons of mass destruction which were listed in a 1998 report by weapons inspectors. Prime Minister Tony Blair said most people who had seen the report were "very skeptical about the claims that it makes."

The government said it would give its formal response to the declaration after the Dec. 25 Christmas holiday.

British military leaders say they are making "contingency provisions" for possible war with Iraq, but have stressed war is not inevitable.

Straw told the BBC that neither the United States nor Britain was about to "take five steps ahead of itself and then go to war."

"What we have got today is a further step in a very calm and deliberate process to try by every means possible to get Iraq to try and comply with its international obligations ... Nobody wants war. We do not want war and the United States, I am sure, does not want war."

APTV 12-19-02 0359EST