Published July 20, 2003
SEOUL, South Korea – British Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) said Sunday he would take full responsibility if an inquiry ruled that his government had indirectly contributed to the suicide of a former U.N. weapons inspector caught up in a dispute over the Iraq war.
But the premier insisted he had no intention of resigning, despite the death of David Kelly and the ongoing row over the government's use of intelligence in the buildup to war. He also rejected calls to cut short his tour of Asia.
"Because of the seriousness of what's happened, because somebody has died as a result of the events of the last few weeks, it's right that we have an inquiry," Blair told Sky Television's Sunday with Adam Boulton program, recorded before he left Japan for talks with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun (search).
"I have been through quite a few times when people have said this is a terrible situation and all the rest of it ... but you go through tough times as a government and you go through difficult times as the prime minister," Blair added.
Asked if he still had the appetite to continue as prime minister he responded defiantly: "Absolutely."
Blair's government has been fighting with the British Broadcasting Corp. over its report that the government "sexed up" an intelligence dossier to include the claim, against the wishes of intelligence chiefs, that Saddam Hussein (search) could launch chemical and biological weapons on 45 minutes notice.
Kelly, a Defense Ministry expert, contacted his superiors and admitted meeting the reporter who broke the disputed story -- and his name quickly leaked out.
His wife said he felt enormous pressure when he was called before a parliamentary committee, where he denied that he was the source the government was vigorously trying to smoke out.
His body was found near his home in southern England Friday and police later said he had apparently killed himself by slashing his left wrist.
In Britain, the prime minister has faced calls to resign over the issue, and Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith has suggested Blair should come home and recall Parliament from its summer recess.
"Recalling Parliament would generate more heat than light and I do not think that is appropriate," Blair told reporters before leaving Japan for South Korea.
"I think we should have a period of reflection and the period in which the judge can carry out his inquiry and also allow the family time to grieve," he told reporters.
Asked directly if he would take responsibility for the actions of officials, he replied: "Of course. In the end the government is my responsibility and I can assure you the judge will be able to get to what facts, what people, what papers he wants."
Blair's Asian tour, following a triumphant address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, was supposed to give the prime minister an opportunity to focus on international efforts to end the standoff with North Korea (search).
But his efforts at international diplomacy continue to be overshadowed by Kelly's suicide. He stood stony faced and silent when a journalist interrupted a new conference Saturday in Japan by shouting: "Have you got blood on your hands, Prime Minister? Are you going to resign over this?"
Blair, who is traveling with his wife Cherie, appeared more relaxed arriving in Seoul Sunday. He visited a British supermarket chain and his wife watched local youngsters in a traditional fan dance.
Blair and Roh were expected to discuss a range of bilateral issues as well as the nuclear standoff.
In Tokyo earlier, Blair held talks with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on efforts to end the nine-month-old North Korean crisis.
Blair said he backed U.S. calls for multilateral talks with the secretive northern state, involving Washington, China, South Korea and Japan. North Korea has demanded one-on-one discussions with the United States.
The crisis flared last October when U.S. officials said Pyongyang admitted having a secret nuclear program in violation of a 1994 pact with Washington.
Blair was due to fly to Beijing later Sunday for talks with President Hu Jintao.