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Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 18:35 GMT
Stating their cases on war
Tony Blair has made the moral case for war

Tony Blair has opened a new front in his campaign to persuade people of the need for action against Saddam Hussein.

For the first time in this pre-war phase, he has suggested there is a moral duty to stop Saddam in his tracks.

He confessed the policy of sanctions had succeeded only in impoverishing innocent Iraqis - and he invoked the image of starving children to back his argument.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy
Kennedy will march
But it is a strategy that cuts both ways. Many anti-war protesters are against action precisely to spare the lives of yet more innocent children.

They demonstrate regularly outside the House of Commons.

Widening splits

The fact that the prime minister deployed it suggests that, at this late stage, he is resigned to the fact that he has failed to persuade a sceptical public of the case for action.

And those splits, both inside Britain and the wider world, were show to be as wide as ever - and possibly even widening - in BBC One's Iraq: Britain Decides, which is being shown at 2030 GMT on Wednesday.

Presidential adviser Richard Perle claimed America was impatient for war, and accused France of hypocrisy and obstructionism.

Senior French politician Jacques Myard, in effect, accused America of imperialism and standing ready to trample over the UN.

At the same time, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw re-stated the government's determination to listen to Hans Blix on Friday and seek a second UN resolution if necessary.

But he also left no doubt that virtually any veto of that resolution would be ignored, even if it meant a regrettable division within Europe.

Top gear

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy claimed he was speaking for the public by insisting on the need for a second resolution.

And, outside the debate Clare Short also stated there was an "overwhelming" need for a second resolution to allow action.

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Blair has taken moral line
Falklands veteran Simon Weston spoke for many of the anti-war protesters when he declared that the voters were so used to spin and lies from the government they no longer knew what to believe.

No minds were changed. We may already be past that point. But the cases were put as eloquently and, sometimes passionately, as ever,

Things will now move into top gear with a round of diplomacy aimed at preparing the way for the war most believe to be inevitable and imminent.

For the prime minister, a huge amount hangs on exactly what chief weapons inspector Dr Hans Blix tells the UN on Friday.

Dangerous splits

If he declares that Saddam still is not cooperating fully, President Bush and Mr Blair will pretty swiftly move towards winning a second UN resolution sanctioning war.

If he says Saddam is starting to play ball and asks for more time to continue his inspections he lands the president and the prime minister with a major headache.

They will almost certainly still press for a second resolution on the grounds that Iraq is playing games. It seems unlikely they will countenance any further significant delay.

But that will be a hugely difficult stand to take and could risk widening the already dangerous splits in the UN and Europe.

The next big challenge comes the following Monday when the prime minister attends a crisis EU summit in Brussels.

The meeting has been called in a desperate attempt to heal the rifts in Europe sparked by the Franco-German opposition to imminent war.

But, on Wednesday's showing, that mountain looks virtually unscalable.

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See also:

12 Feb 03 | Politics
11 Feb 03 | Europe
09 Feb 03 | Politics
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