Blair Says Iraq Weapons Secrets Will Be Publicized
Saturday, May 31, 2003; 7:15 PM
By Mike Peacock
ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted on Sunday that Britain and the United States would unearth evidence of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" and make it public before long.
In an interview with Britain's Sky Television at a Russia-European Union summit, Blair said he had already seen plenty of information that his critics had not, but would in due course.
"Over the coming weeks and months we will assemble this evidence and then we will give it to people," he said. "I have no doubt whatever that the evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction will be there."
Months before war was launched, Blair produced what he said was intelligence that Saddam Hussein could launch biological or chemical weapons at short notice, in Iraq or at its neighbors.
That became London's justification for joining Washington's war in the Gulf. But weeks after the conflict finished, no such weapons have been found.
Widespread international cynicism about British and American motives for the war was stoked this week by a BBC report that an intelligence dossier had been altered, at the request of Blair's office, to make it "sexier" by adding that Iraq's weapons could be readied for use within 45 minutes.
Blair publicly made that assertion as he argued Saddam had to be tackled. But he was unrepentant on Sunday.
"Those people who are sitting there saying 'Oh it is all going to be proved to be a great big fib got out by the security services, there will be no weapons of mass destruction', just wait and have a little patience," he said.
"I certainly do know some of the stuff that has already been accumulated...which is not yet public but what we are going to do is assemble that evidence and present it properly."
Blair has recently raised fresh justifications for toppling Saddam, pointing to his oppressive regime and its documented atrocities. But his political opponents will continue to hound him over the original reason he gave for war.
Blair took a big gamble backing a war which was heavily opposed by Britons before it started. Polls later turned in Blair's favor but the issue has the power to return and bite him.
The controversy has been fueled by comments from the two top U.S. defense officials that the American decision to stress the threat of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons was taken for "bureaucratic" reasons, and that Iraq may have destroyed them before the war.
The UK government on Saturday denied a report that Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and his U.S. counterpart Colin Powell had serious doubts about the quality of intelligence they received on Iraq's weapons programmes.
The Guardian, quoting a diplomatic source, said the pair had met shortly before a crucial U.N. Security Council meeting in February and both expressed their "deep concerns about the intelligence" they were getting on Iraq.
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said the report was "untrue."