Blair: Iraqi Regime 'Has to Change'

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

London ( - The British government will publish "in the next few weeks" details of evidence indicating that Saddam Hussein has continued to try to acquire weapons of mass destruction, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday.

The plan mirrors the action taken by Britain in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks to boost international support for military action against Afghanistan.

Speaking to reporters at a news conference in his parliamentary district of Sedgefield in northern England, Blair said, "The United States should not have to face this issue (of Iraq) alone. We should face it together."

Blair said it was in the best interests of Britain and the world to confront Iraq over weapons of mass destruction.

"I believe there is evidence that they will acquire nuclear weapons if they possibly can," he said.

Blair also made his strongest statement to date in support of the Bush administration policy of regime change in the Middle Eastern country.

"Either (Saddam's) regime starts to function in an entirely different way - and there hasn't been much sign of that - or the regime has to change," Blair said.

"If Sept. 11 teaches us anything, it teaches us that it is wrong to wait until the threat materializes," he said. "These issues are being raised rightly by the United States."

Also on Tuesday, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said Baghdad was ready to discuss the return of U.N. weapons inspectors, who were kicked out in 1998. But Aziz said Iraq also wanted the talks to include discussions about the removal of U.N. sanctions and said that his country was preparing for war with the United States.

Domestic situation

Blair faces a tricky domestic political situation over the problem of Iraq. Senior members of his administration have emphasized that no decisions have yet been taken and that any proposals for military action should be taken to the U.N. Security Council.

Over the weekend, Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith came out in favor of pre-emptive strikes, saying that Iraq's next generation of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons could be capable of reaching Britain and Europe.

"Britain is faced with a choice. Either we allow Saddam to build up his arsenal including nuclear weapons, or we move against him before he can develop and use those weapons," Duncan Smith wrote in an article in the Sunday Times newspaper.

"We can choose to act pre-emptively or we can prevaricate. But everyone should understand that the only winner from the confusion is Saddam," he said.

However, the third-party Liberal Democrats have come out against military action in the absence of "hard evidence" and a concrete plan for Iraq's future. The party backed military intervention in Afghanistan.

In addition, some politicians on the left wing of Blair's own Labor Party have criticized U.S. policy on Iraq and have called for a full debate in Parliament on the issue.

Opinion polls show the British public is split on military strikes - but a majority opposes sending U.K. troops to help out in any allied attack in the absence of a U.N. mandate.

See earlier story:
British Prime Minister Outlines Case Against Bin Laden, Taliban (Oct. 4, 2001)

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