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 Sunday, 12 January, 2003, 15:25 GMT
Short 'rejects' lone action against Iraq
Peace protesters in the Ashdown Forest on Sunday
Anti-war activists went naked for their latest protest
The UK would not join American unilateral military action against Iraq, according to International Development Secretary Clare Short.

Ms Short said the UK had a duty to try to keep the world united over the Iraq crisis and ensure the danger of Saddam Hussein was only tackled through the United Nations.

Other ministers have shied away from saying whether or not the UK would join America if it decided to act alone against Iraq.

With US troop build-up continuing in the Gulf, Labour Chairman John Reid has denied there is widespread disquiet about the handling of the Iraq crisis.

Two surveys in Sunday newspapers point to deep unease about the prospect of war among Labour activists.

Despite cold weather, a group of 30 peace campaigners went naked in East Sussex for their latest protest against any military action.

Short's concern

The Conservatives say Tony Blair is "wobbling" and failing to make the case for the UK joining possible military action because of Labour splits.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said: "That worries me because the British people are still waiting to see what the case is for British involvement."

Mr Blair is reportedly to make a personal effort to win over Labour MPs sceptical of his stance over Iraq.

The prime minister's spokesman said last week UN weapons inspectors needed "time and space" to do their work in Iraq in what was seen as a reassurances to critics.

Clare Short
Clare Short: Must stick to UN route
The sailing of the aircraft carrier Ark Royal for the Gulf has heightened speculation that the UK is preparing to help the US in military action against Iraq.

Ms Short, seen as one of the cabinet ministers more sceptical about possible war, told ITV's Jonathan Dimbleby programme she was "very, very worried" about the Iraq crisis.

"The role of the UK in this historic and dangerous time ... is to try to keep the US with the UN process, back up the authority of the UN and not depart from the UN process," she said.

Asked if that meant the UK would not join America if it acted alone against Iraq, she replied: "That is the logic of the position."

Ms Short also argued the US failure to do more to restart the Middle East peace process had bred distrust and anger in the region.

Suez warning

Earlier, senior Labour MP Clive Soley said there was a danger the UK could be a repeat of the Suez crisis, which caused the downfall of then Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden.

Mr Soley, ex-chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, told the Sunday Times: "There is a danger of getting into a conflict without the support of the country or Parliament."

Dr Reid told Sky News Labour opinions were similar to those of the wider public.

"There may be some on one extreme who want to go straight to military conflict," he said.

US troops in Gulf
US build-up in the Gulf is continuing
"There are others on the other extreme who don't want to use military means under any circumstances.

"But the broad thrust of the party, I think, recognises that Saddam Hussein is a major threat ...

"But they want to see that every possible means of diplomacy and pressure is used before the military option becomes necessary and to go through the UN route."

On Monday, Mr Blair is expected to use his monthly televised news conference to explain again his stance on Iraq.

On Wednesday, he will address a private meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, something officials say he always does after the Christmas recess.

'Unnecessary rhetoric'

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said Mr Blair needed to be clearer about the circumstances in which the UK would go to war.

Mr Kennedy argued there should be no "unnecessary rhetoric" from London or Washington while UN inspectors continued their work.

The Independent on Sunday questioned 35 Labour Party officials from ministers' constituencies.

Only two of them were in favour of British support for an attack on Iraq without UN backing.

A Sunday Telegraph survey of 74 Labour Party constituency chairmen found 69% of them predicted war with Iraq would provoke resignations among local members.

The newspaper reports Mr Blair has been warned by three cabinet ministers - Tessa Jowell, Hilary Armstrong and Helen Liddell - that he must "sell" his military strategy on Iraq or face a rebellion by MPs.

  The BBC's Guto Harri
"Labour backbenches are afraid"

Key stories





See also:

09 Jan 03 | Middle East
12 Jan 03 | Middle East
11 Jan 03 | Middle East
03 Dec 02 | World
09 Nov 02 | Europe
24 Sep 02 | Europe
11 Jan 03 | Middle East
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