Finding Weapons 'May Take Years'; Goalposts Moved Again as Premier Suggests Saddam's Arsenal May Not Turn Up until after the General Election
Eastham, Paul, Daily Mail (London)
Byline: PAUL EASTHAM
TONY BLAIR suggested last night that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction may not be found until well after the next general election.
In yet another sign that the Premier is backtracking from his claim that the Iraqi leader had weapons he could deploy in 45 minutes, he hinted that they may not turn up for 'four or five years'.
The remarks in a television interview came only four days after Mr Blair used a speech to both houses of Congress in Washington to declare that he was right to join the invasion of Iraq, even if no chemical or biological weapons turn up.
The Prime Minister was asked by a Sky interviewer whether he was surprised that nothing had been found three months after major conflict ended in Iraq.
He replied: 'No. What I have consistently tried to emphasise to people, and indeed this is very clear when you look back in the September dossier, is that there was an organised programme of concealment. This is exactly what he did before.
'What people forget is that when weapons inspectors first went into Iraq after the Gulf War in 1991 they didn't find the full biological weapons programme for four or five years.
'Now, I don't believe that will happen this time, because they are beginning to get the co-operation of the Iraqi scientists and experts and so on.
'But the point is that the concealment of these weapons programmes was a very important part of his strategy and that is why it does not surprise me in the least that it will require proper interviews with the people engaged in those programmes in order to discover where the programmes and products are.' By watering down his predictions, the Prime Minister risks an explosion of anger among his backbenchers, many of whom supported the war only reluctantly after he told them of the 45-minute threat. …