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Blair: Hussein Has 'One Chance' Left

Saddam Hussein has "one further final chance" to disarm in compliance with U.N. demands, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday.

Blair told the House of Commons that Britain would not seek an immediate vote on a draft of a new U.N. resolution in order to give Saddam a final opportunity to comply.

The United States, Britain and Spain submitted a resolution to the Security Council on Monday declaring that Saddam Hussein has missed "the final opportunity" to disarm peacefully and indicating he must now face the consequences.

"We will not put this resolution to a vote immediately," Blair said, adding that the delay would "give Saddam one further final chance. Now is the time for him to decide."

"Today the path to peace is clear," Blair added. "Saddam can cooperate fully with the inspectors. He can voluntarily disarm, he can even leave the country peacefully. But he cannot avoid disarmament."

Blair pointed out that U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, passed in November to restart the weapons inspections process in Iraq, "called for full, unconditional and immediate compliance — not 10 percent, 20 percent, not even 50 percent, but 100 percent compliance.

"Anything less will not do," Blair said.

The resolution would need approval from nine of the 15 Security Council members to pass. France, Russia and China — which each have power to veto a resolution — favor giving inspectors more time.

Earlier, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Britain retained "freedom of maneuver" and would make its own decision about whether to wage war on Iraq, independently of what action the United States takes.

"We are an independent, sovereign country," Straw told British Broadcasting Corp. radio, adding: "We have not yet made a decision in respect of military action."

Straw said Britain may call for a vote on the new draft resolution within two weeks, but suggested Britain could go to war without U.N. backing.

Many British lawmakers, including much of Blair's own Labor Party, oppose military action without U.N. approval, and have expressed concern that Blair is backing President Bush too closely on Iraq.

Lawmakers will vote Wednesday on a motion backing the government's handling of the Iraq crisis at the United Nations.

Lawmakers have expressed concern that the motion could be viewed as a veiled authorization for war. But the government's leader in the House of Commons, Robin Cook, has said the motion will not be a "trap."

Although the government is under no obligation to seek authorization from lawmakers before launching military action, Straw said it would seek parliamentary backing for any war, unless an attack was launched at very short notice.

"Any decision which the Cabinet makes will have to go the British House of Commons for endorsement," he said. "We've had to reserve the position that if in the event military action has to be taken very suddenly, we have to go to the Commons for endorsement afterward."

The new U.N. draft resolution sets no deadlines, but British and U.S. officials have said they want the Security Council to decide by mid-March "that Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it in Resolution 1441," which the council adopted unanimously Nov. 8.

"We've provided a period of around two weeks but that may turn out to be more, maybe a little less," Straw said. "I hope as a result of us serving this notice, Iraq will take the final opportunity which so far it has evaded."