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Hoon: We're ready for war.

Byline: Sophie Blakemore

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon last night confirmed that the UK was preparing for military action against Iraq as Arab leaders urged Saddam Hussein to accept the new United Nations resolution and avoid war.

The news came as officials from President Bush's administration said Iraq would be held to a 'zero tolerance' standard in meeting the new resolution, and any breach could be met with overwhelming military force with or without Security Council approval.

The officials said Washington would initially seek UN backing for any military action if Iraq violated the resolution, but President Bush reserved the right to use force without Security Council approval.

'The UN can meet and discuss, but we don't need their permis-sion,' White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said.

Although there has been no official response from Baghdad yet, Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Egypt said that Iraq was poised to comply with UN demands.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw also said Saddam may well meet the deadline to accept the resolution.

It gives him until Friday to agree to allow in weapons inspectors or face 'serious consequences' - widely assumed to mean war.

But Mr Straw added that the far more significant issue was whether the Iraqi dictator would comply with the second deadline facing him - to produce a full inventory of his weapons programmes by December 7.

Mr Hoon stressed that military action would be taken as a last resort and added that he expected Iraq to comply with UN demands.

He refused to elaborate on dates or tactics of UK action but said Saddam had to be shown that 'we mean business'.

'We are preparing, and indeed it's clear that the response of Iraq to the United Nations has been determined by the fact that we have shown our willingness to use military force should that become necessary,' he said.

'Clearly the United States and indeed the United Kingdom have had a range of military plans available as we do in the event of contingencies developing anywhere in the world.'

He added: 'Not many months ago Iraq was saying that they would never ever accept the return of weapons inspectors.

'We're obviously expecting them now to accept the will of the international community.'

He did not rule out taking military action against Iraq without a fresh UN mandate.

Meanwhile, Mr Straw said that the prospect of military action would recede if Saddam complied with the new resolution.

'We have already seen some suggestions that he might have this in mind,' he said.

Mr Straw denied that there was any uncertainty about how the international community would respond in the case of any breach of the resolution by Saddam.

'It is all there. It is very clear,' he said. 'Military action is bound to follow if Saddam Hussein does not comply fully with the terms of this resolution.'

Mr Straw repeated his promise that Parliament would have a chance to debate a substantive motion on Iraq.

Arab League ministers - in Cairo for an extraordinary session - said they wanted Iraq to comply in order to avoid US-led military intervention they fear would unleash popular anger.

Egyptian government minister Ahmed Maher said he believed the Iraqis would comply.

So far, Iraq has said only that it is 'quietly' studying the resolution and will announce its position in the next few days.

An emergency session of the Iraqi parliament has been called to debate the issue.

Saddam has remained silent since the resolution was unanimously adopted on Friday, although the Iraqi national news agency has repeatedly criticised the document as 'bad and unjust'. Resolution 1441, agreed after eight weeks of intensive diplomacy, provides for the council to convene to discuss any reports of breaches by Saddam.

Saddam is required to produce an inventory of his chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programmes within 30 days, and the inspectors must start working on eliminating them within 45 days and report back to the Security Council on their progress within 105.


Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Nov 11, 2002
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