Weapons of mass destruction may yet be found in Iraq, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Friday, commenting on an initial report by a U.S. weapons hunter.
Chief U.S. weapons investigator David Kay said he has found no weapons of mass destruction and only limited evidence of secret programs to develop weapons.
"The fact they have not found weapons obviously does not mean weapons were not there," Straw said in a British Broadcasting Corp. radio interview.
He also argued that it would have been fruitless to allow U.N. weapons inspectors more time to search for banned weapons before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
"If we allowed more time, we were simply allowing more time for deceptions and defiance by the Saddam regime," Straw said. "Gradually, the resolve of the international community to deal with this matter would have died down.
"The only reason we got the inspectors back in was because of the military threat. ... That military threat was bound to be a time-limited one."
Straw denied that the U.S.-led coalition had decided to invade Iraq as soon as it began deploying troops to the region, months before the war began.
"Our hope all the way through was that the threat of military action backing inspections could lead to a peaceful resolution of this," he said.
In a statement to several congressional committees Thursday, Kay made one strong finding, that the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was actively developing missiles that exceeded range limits imposed by the United Nations.
Straw said Kay's report supported the British government's claim before the war that Iraq was a "serious and current" threat and showed that Iraqi authorities had defied U.N. weapons inspectors.
Hans Blix, the chief U.N. inspector, has said he regretted not being given more time to search for weapons. But Straw said failure to take military action in March would have allowed Saddam to strengthen his position.
Prime Minister Tony Blair's government had made the threat of Iraqi weapons the heart of its case for military action. Blair has been on the defensive because coalition forces have not found such weapons.
The suggestion -- contained in a September 2002 government dossier to bolster support for war -- that Iraq could deploy some chemical or biological weapons on 45 minutes' notice became one of the most contentious claims.
Kay, who heads the Iraq Survey Group, said his team has found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq so far, but cautioned that it was still in the middle of an intensive hunt.