The new proposal, which would also greatly extend the deadline for Iraq to confirm its disarmament, outlines six specific measures the government in Baghdad must undertake to come into compliance.
The steps include: a television appearance by Saddam Hussein renouncing weapons of mass destruction; interviews with 30 key Iraqi weapons scientists in Cyprus; confirmed destruction of 10,000 liters of anthrax and other chemical and biological weapons it is allegedly holding and full reports on its past programs; destruction of al-Samoud 2 and other disallowed missiles and a full report on its unmanned aerial vehicles program.
Blair said the new plan was proof that the U.K., U.S. and Spain were making a good-faith effort to compromise with those on the U.N. Security Council who oppose immediate military action against Iraq.
“What is at stake here is not whether the United States goes alone or not, it is whether the international community is prepared to back up the clear instruction it gave to Saddam Hussein with the necessary action,” he said. “The best thing is to go flat-out for that second resolution.”
Although Iraq would have much longer than the current March 17 deadline, the British prime minister stressed the international community had to address the matter quickly.
“The idea that we can leave British and American troops down there for months on an indefinite time scale without insisting clearly that Saddam disarms, that would send not just a message out to Saddam but a message of weakness right across the world,” Blair said.
Blair issued the new proposal during a contentious session in the House of Commons Wednesday. Although the prime minister outlined efforts to draft a second U.N. resolution, many members focused debate on comments made Tuesday by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld, during a regularly scheduled Pentagon briefing, discussed the domestic political difficulties Blair’s government faced and appeared to say the U.S. was ready conduct a war in Iraq without British military assistance.
“What will ultimately be decided is unclear as to their [Britain’s] role,” Rumsfeld said of the 45,000-member British military presence in the Persian Gulf area.
“And to the extent they are able to participate — in the event that the president decides to use force — that would obviously be welcomed,” he added. “To the extent they’re not, there are workarounds and they would not be involved, at least in that phase of it.”
Hours after the briefing, the secretary issued a second statement that reaffirmed the British involvement in any campaign against Saddam.
“In the event that a decision to use force is made, we have every reason to believe there will be a significant military contribution from the United Kingdom,” Rumsfeld’s statement said.
The official spokesman for Blair said the second statement had been “helpful” in clarifying Britain’s continued vital role in the effort to disarm Iraq.
“What he was clearly talking about was a theoretical possibility that British forces might not be involved,” British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said, echoing the words from the prime minister’s office. “He has every reason to believe that there will be a significant military contribution from the United Kingdom.”
Critics of the war from within his own party peppered the prime minister with questions about Rumsfeld’s comment and the U.K.’s position.
“It has given the prime minister a clear exit strategy now,” Graham Allen, a leading opponent from Blair’s Labour Party, told the BBC. “He’s been released from any obligation that he had to the president or to America to go to war.”
The new proposal and parliamentary debate comes as public opinion continues to call for no military action without U.N. approval.
The Times of London published a new poll Tuesday that found that only 19 percent of the British public would back war without a new U.N. resolution. The survey also showed 52 percent of Britons would only back their nation’s involvement if there was a new U.N. resolution.