UK `preparing for war'.
DEFENCE Secretary Geoff Hoon yesterday confirmed 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.
Although there has been no official response from Baghdad yet, Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Egypt said 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 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, ``That has been the position for some time now and indeed it does reflect the change in (Saddam's) attitude.
``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.
``That is because we have been prepared to indicate a determination to use force should it become necessary but I want to emphasise that is a last resort.''
Meanwhile, Mr Straw said 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.
While the debate would no doubt take in the issue of possible military action, the actual vote would probably be on whether MPs endorsed the Security Council resolution, he said.
Arab League ministers - in Cairo for an extraordinary session - said they wanted Iraq to comply in order to avoid US-led military intervention that they fear would unleash popular anger across the region.
Egyptian government minister Ahmed Maher told reporters at the meeting he believed the Iraqis would comply.
``I think we can expect a positive position by the Iraqis,'' he said.
So far, Iraq has said only that it is ``quietly'' studying the resolution and will announce its position in the next few days.
Saddam has remained silent since the resolution was unani-mously adopted on Friday, although the Iraqi national news agency has repeatedly criticised the document as ``bad and unjust.'' US national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said that weapons inspectors would take a ``zero tolerance'' approach under the new resolution and added she was ``very sceptical'' that Saddam would meet all its terms.
Resolution 1441, agreed after eight weeks of intensive diplomacy, provides for the council to convene to discuss any reports of breaches by Saddam, but it does not spell out who would decide whether he should face the ``serious consequences'' with which he is threatened.
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 days.