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British Forces Ready If Needed

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

LONDON, Dec. 5, 1997 – The British aircraft carrier H.M.S. Invincible and its complement of Royal Air Force Harrier jets are standing by in the Mediterranean ready to join American warships in the Persian Gulf if needed.

Side-by-side with U.S. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen at a press conference here Dec. 4, British Secretary of State for Defence George Robertson said his nation is proud to play a part in U.N. efforts to uncover Iraq's deadly secrets.

He said British Tornado fighters, already in the gulf region enforcing the southern no-fly zone in Iraq, helped protect American U-2 surveillance flights after Saddam Hussein threatened to shoot them down.

Cohen said Great Britain's decision to put Invincible on call near the gulf sends a strong signal the United States and Great Britain are united in their commitment to resolve the crisis. Invincible had been on station in the Caribbean.

Robertson said his nation stands firm with the United States against the threat Hussein and his regime pose for both Iraq's immediate neighbors and the rest of the world. Both leaders said they are determined to alert the public to the deadly danger represented by a regime that possesses chemical and biological weapons.

"We're alerting the world to what we mean by 'weapons of mass destruction,'" Robertson said. "This man, this dictator, has control over weapons that have anthrax, botulism, plague, nerve gases, blood agents, blister agents. These are weapons of horrifying consequence in the hands of someone who can and has used them."

Both leaders stressed the crisis with Iraq is far from over. Hussein allowed U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq, but denied them access to 63 sites declared "sensitive" and off-limits.

Until the inspectors have free access to these sites, the crisis is not over, but only on hold, Cohen said. "We'll have to see what the inspectors are allowed to do before we can say [the crisis] is on the road to being fully resolved."

"We are awaiting signs on the ground, rather than words in the air," Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Mike Doubleday said.

In the meantime, Cohen said, "we must keep the pressure on. We must insist that [Hussein] fully comply with all of the resolutions. We must keep the focus on what he has done, what he is capable of doing and why he should not be allowed to resume his activities."

Robertson said Hussein suffered a major defeat, backing down in the face of the U.N. resolve and U.S. military response. "'The steel fist inside the velvet glove of diplomacy'" worked in this instance, but the world community must remain vigilant, strong and united lest [Hussein] attempts to exploit any weakness that might exist in the future," he said.

"We hope the diplomatic success will hold, that Hussein will no longer feel that he can easily challenge the U.N. consensus, but if he does, he knows there are forces from at least two countries there against him," Robertson said.

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