Blair shifts emphasis on WMD

The prime minister appears to have subtly changed his stance on Iraq’s capacity to launch weapons of mass destruction.

In an interview with Sir David Frost yesterday, Tony Blair conceded no “definitive” answer could be given at present as to the accuracy of intelligence reports on Iraq’s chemical and biological and nuclear weapons arsenal.

Mr Blair said: “In a land mass twice the size of the UK it may well not be surprising you don’t find where this stuff is hidden.”

This marks a major shift of emphasis for Mr Blair, whose government hitherto has insisted it was only a matter of time before WMD would be found.

But Mr Blair said it was right to act on the intelligence reports, however incomplete the findings.

“What they have found already is a whole raft of evidence about clandestine operations that should have been disclosed to the United Nations.

“What you can say is that we received that intelligence about Saddam’s programs and about his weapons, that we acted on that.”

Tory foreign affairs spokesman Michael Ancram said Mr Blair was now “hedging his bets”.

“The prime minister only in July was telling us this survey group – in his mind he had no doubt – would find weapons of mass destruction,” he told Channel 4 News.

“Now he is saying he doesn’t know whether they will.”

Mr Ancram said if the WMD claims were disproved it would raise “very serious questions” about the war to oust Saddam Hussein from power.