Britain Will Not Oppose Execution of Tyrant; TRIAL IN IRAQ WITH DEATH PENALTY AS PUNISHMENT BLAIR OPENS THE WAY FOR FORMER PRESIDENT TO FACE

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Byline: PATRICK HENNESSY;CHRIS STEPHEN

BRITAIN today opened the way for Saddam Hussein to be tried in Iraq - and to be sentenced to death.

Tony Blair and Jack Straw left it in no doubt that the UK would raise no objection if the former president faced execution in his own country.

First Foreign Secretary Mr Straw said Britain had a long history of opposing the death penalty but acknowledged there were many countries around the world which did not share the policy.

Then, within minutes, Downing Street hardened its stance still further, ahead of a Commons statement from Mr Blair this afternoon.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said that Britain opposed capital punishment but "were that to be the outcome, obviously that would be something that we would have to accept".

The comments allayed fears raised earlier by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's senior representative in Iraq, that the issue would open a serious diplomatic rift between London and Washington.

Both Mr Straw and Mr Blair's spokesman went out of their way to point out that other countries on the United Nations security council apart from the US backed the death penalty in some cases.

The Foreign Secretary also told a Whitehall news conference that Britain was not "holding its breath" for revelations from Saddam about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction - or anything else.

Mr Straw said: "His history of mendacity is so intense and so long-lasting that he wouldn't understand the

BLAIR OPENS THE WAY FOR FORMER PRESIDENT TO FACE truth if he fell over it."

He said he was delighted when he heard the news of the tyrant's capture, and added that he did not "leap for joy" but instead got out of bed and made a cup of tea.

The Foreign Secretary dampened speculation that Saddam might be brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He said that body's statutes ruled that, where possible, war criminals should be tried in their own countries.

Asked what would be the appropriate punishment, he said: "The position of the British Government and Parliament on the death penalty is very clear - we have abolished the death penalty here and oppose its use in other countries.

"However, it is an obvious reality that the death penalty exists and is used by other countries, including two of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. In the end, the appropriate punishment is a matter for the sovereign governments and their courts."

Mr Straw revealed that he was woken to receive the news of Saddam's arrest - and had been dreaming about the European Union constitution negotiations which collapsed in Brussels on Saturday.

He said: "I was very pleased, not to say delighted, to have good news and for it to be on a non-EU subject. …