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SLUG: 2-292409 Britain / Blair (L)








INTRO: British Prime Minister Tony Blair says his government has not reached a decision about possible military action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Tom Rivers reports from London.

TEST: Prime Minister Blair, in a wide-ranging, 90-minute news conference, said that any action that might be taken against Iraq is not yet finalized.

/// BLAIR ACT 1 ///

As I have said before, action is not imminent. We are not at the point of decision yet. And there are many issues to be considered before we are at the point of decision.

/// END ACT ///

Mr. Blair said that a key problem still is Iraq's possible possession of weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological, or nuclear.

/// BLAIR ACT 2 ///

Iraq's position in relation to weapons of mass destruction are an issue, but we have taken no decision as to how to deal with this.

/// END ACT ///

Mr. Blair's office has said for several weeks that it has a dossier outlining specifics about President Saddam's weapons programs. At the news conference, a reporter asked the prime minister when the report might be made public.

/// BLAIR ACT 3 ///

BLAIR: There is an issue of timing, and I do not feel it is the right moment to do it.

REPORTER: What is the right moment, the day before we go to war?

BLAIR: No, the right moment, I am afraid I have got to tell you, is when I judge it to be the right moment.

/// END ACT ///

Prime Minister Blair said he believes there still is a chance, albeit small, that a military strike aimed at toppling the Iraqi leader could still be avoided.

/// BLAIR ACT 4 ///

Our demand is that he lets the weapons inspectors back in unconditionally, anytime, anywhere, anyplace. If he were to do that, of course as I have said before, that makes a difference. But I see no sign that he is prepared to do that.

/// END ACT ///

On other issues, the prime minister confirmed that Britain is considering turning its military base on Gibraltar into a NATO facility, a move that would expand access to all members -- including Spain. But he said Gibraltar will remain under British control.

/// REST OPT ///

Mr. Blair also said financial scandals in the United States and turmoil on world stock markets will not affect Britain's decision on whether to join the European single currency. (Signed)


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