Originally created 02/19/03

British leader says public opposition to war would fade if military action taken



LONDON -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday that he believed public opinion in Britain would swing behind military action against Iraq if the government decides to take that course.

A poll published Tuesday in The Guardian found that 52 percent of respondents in Britain oppose war, up five percentage points from last month. The poll did not indicate if that opposition depended on U.N. backing for military action.

ICM interviewed a random sample of 1,003 adults by telephone on Feb. 14-16. The margin of error was plus or minus three percentage points.

"We aren't actually at war at the moment. And I think that the moment when the public takes its final view of this will be the moment when we in fact take military action," Blair told a news conference.

Hundreds of thousands of people thronged London on Saturday for a march protesting against war.

Blair said he believed that many of the weekend marchers were opposed to any military action which they believed was "rushed and unnecessary."

"There is no rush to war. We waited 12 years and then went through the United Nations. It is now three months since we gave Saddam what we called a 'final opportunity,"' Blair said.

"There is a further report on February 28 but the truth is that without full co-operation by Saddam, the inspectors are never going to be able to search out the weapons."

The prime minister wouldn't say how much more time he thought should be allowed.

"I don't want to get into a point of saying: 'This is the date ..."' Blair said.

On Monday, Blair was in Brussels for a European Union summit which skirted the timing issue.

The heads of government declared that U.N. weapons inspectors "must be given the time and resources that the U.N. Security Council believes they need," but also said that "inspections cannot continue indefinitely in the absence of full Iraqi cooperation."

Blair said the discussions in Brussels highlight a divide "between those who say that the inspectors should go into Iraq and sort of sit there and see what they can find, and provided they are able to see what they can find, that is enough; and those who like myself say no, they have actively ... to cooperate with the inspectors."