LONDON – Prime Minister Tony Blair said Monday Iraq must be disarmed by force if it doesn't rid itself of weapons of mass destruction, declining to promise he would resort to military means only with U.N. approval.
Blair, President Bush's staunchest ally on Iraq, expressed confidence U.N. weapons inspectors would do a thorough job in Iraq, saying the world must wait to see what they find.
"Whatever happens, Saddam will be disarmed," the prime minister said at his monthly news conference. "We have complete and total determination to do this. ... It's not conflict that is inevitable, but disarmament is inevitable."
The British leader is under domestic pressure not to use force unless U.N. arms inspectors find evidence of Iraqi banned weapons and the United Nations supports an attack.
Blair said he believed the United Nations would approve military action if the inspectors found Saddam had violated a Security Council resolution, adopted Nov. 8, which gave the Iraqi leader a last chance to disarm.
But he suggested Britain and America would not be stopped from taking military action by any member of the Security Council putting an "unreasonable or unilateral block down on action."
"We can't be in a position where we are confined in that way," he said. "However, my own judgment is that if there is a breach, then action [by the council] will be authorized."
Opinion polls show the British public is roughly equally divided for and against war against Iraq.
International Development Secretary Clare Short, one of the most dovish Cabinet members, said Sunday that Britain should not join a military attack on Iraq without U.N. authorization. She said Britain had a duty to keep America working within the world body.
The Independent newspaper reported that several Cabinet members warned Blair he'd run into serious political trouble if he commits British forces to an action that lacks U.N. support.
Blair said he understood the fears many Britons have about war. But he argued that Iraq and what he called the international trade in weapons of mass destruction posed a direct threat to British security, one which must be confronted.
"It is a matter of time, unless we act and take a stand, before terrorism and weapons of mass destruction come together," he said.
He also said recent developments over North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons program "deeply worrying" and that the international community had to decide how to deal with it.
Meanwhile, Britain continued military preparations for a possible conflict with Saddam. The Ministry of Defense said Monday that logistics experts have arrived in Iraq's neighbor Kuwait to prepare for action.
Britain is expected to send troops to any U.S.-led military action, although the government insists no commitment has been made.