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Blair says sub-based defense is best option

Prime Minister Tony Blair launched plans Monday for a new submarine-based nuclear missile defense system, warning lawmakers the future may hold perilous threats from rogue regimes and state-sponsored terrorists.

In what is expected to be among his last major acts as prime minister, Blair told the House of Commons that despite the end of the Cold War, potential threats were posed by North Korea, Iran and others.

Blair said Britain would cut its stock of nuclear warheads from 200 to 160 - a move intended to make the proposal more acceptable to detractors within his Labor Party. But he said any decision to reduce the nuclear-armed submarine fleet from four to three would be made only after a new vessel is designed. Blair said advisers had ruled out land-based or air-based alternatives as too costly and too vulnerable.

The replacement submarine fleet would cost around $40-billion. The existing fleet will be phased out after 2022, defense officials said. The government says a decision is urgent because it will take up to 14 years to design, commission and build the submarines.

Britain's conservative opposition leader, David Cameron, endorsed the new deterrent, though he urged options be kept open for a fourth submarine.