Blair-Bush deal before Iraq war
revealed in secret memo
PM promised to be 'solidly behind'
US invasion with or without UN backing
by Richard Norton-Taylor
February 3, 2006
Tony Blair told President George Bush
that he was "solidly" behind US plans to invade Iraq
before he sought advice about the invasion's legality and despite
the absence of a second UN resolution, according to a new account
of the build-up to the war published today.
A memo of a two-hour meeting between the
two leaders at the White House on January 31 2003 - nearly two
months before the invasion - reveals that Mr Bush made it clear
the US intended to invade whether or not there was a second UN
resolution and even if UN inspectors found no evidence of a banned
Iraqi weapons programme.
"The diplomatic strategy had to
be arranged around the military planning", the president
told Mr Blair. The prime minister is said to have raised no objection.
He is quoted as saying he was "solidly with the president
and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam".
The disclosures come in a new edition
of Lawless World, by Phillipe Sands, a QC and professor of international
law at University College, London. Professor Sands last year exposed
the doubts shared by Foreign Office lawyers about the legality
of the invasion in disclosures which eventually forced the prime
minister to publish the full legal advice given to him by the
attorney general, Lord Goldsmith.
The memo seen by Prof Sands reveals:
· Mr Bush told Mr Blair that the
US was so worried about the failure to find hard evidence against
Saddam that it thought of "flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft
planes with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours".
Mr Bush added: "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach
[of UN resolutions]".
· Mr Bush even expressed the hope
that a defector would be extracted from Iraq and give a "public
presentation about Saddam's WMD". He is also said to have
referred Mr Blair to a "small possibility" that Saddam
would be "assassinated".
· Mr Blair told the US president
that a second UN resolution would be an "insurance policy",
providing "international cover, including with the Arabs"
if anything went wrong with the military campaign, or if Saddam
increased the stakes by burning oil wells, killing children, or
fomenting internal divisions within Iraq.
· Mr Bush told the prime minister
that he "thought it unlikely that there would be internecine
warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups".
Mr Blair did not demur, according to the book.
The revelation that Mr Blair had supported
the US president's plans to go to war with Iraq even in the absence
of a second UN resolution contrasts with the assurances the prime
minister gave parliament shortly after. On February 25 2003 -
three weeks after his trip to Washington - Mr Blair told the Commons
that the government was giving "Saddam one further, final
chance to disarm voluntarily".
He added: "Even now, today, we are
offering Saddam the prospect of voluntary disarmament through
the UN. I detest his regime - I hope most people do - but even
now, he could save it by complying with the UN's demand. Even
now, we are prepared to go the extra step to achieve disarmament
On March 18, before the crucial vote on
the war, he told MPs: "The UN should be the focus both of
diplomacy and of action... [and that not to take military action]
would do more damage in the long term to the UN than any other
single course that we could pursue."
The meeting between Mr Bush and Mr Blair,
attended by six close aides, came at a time of growing concern
about the failure of any hard intelligence to back up claims that
Saddam was producing weapons of mass destruction in breach of
UN disarmament obligations. It took place a few days before the
then US secretary Colin Powell made claims - since discredited
- in a dramatic presentation at the UN about Iraq's weapons programme.
Earlier in January 2003, Jack Straw, the
foreign secretary, expressed his private concerns about the absence
of a smoking gun in a private note to Mr Blair, according to the
book. He said he hoped that the UN's chief weapons inspector,
Hans Blix, would come up with enough evidence to report a breach
by Iraq of is its UN obligations.
Downing Street did not deny the existence
of the memo last night, but said: "The prime minister only
committed UK forces to Iraq after securing the approval of the
House of Commons in a vote on March 18, 2003." It added the
decision to resort to military action to ensure Iraq fulfilled
its obligations imposed by successive security council resolutions
was taken only after attempts to disarm Iraq had failed. "Of
course during this time there were frequent discussions between
the UK and US governments about Iraq. We do not comment on the
prime minister's conversations with other leaders."
Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat
acting leader, said last night: "The fact that consideration
was apparently given to using American military aircraft in UN
colours in the hope of provoking Saddam Hussein is a graphic illustration
of the rush to war. It would also appear to be the case that the
diplomatic efforts in New York after the meeting of January 31
were simply going through the motions.
"The prime minister's offer of February
25 to Saddam Hussein was about as empty as it could get. He has
a lot of explaining to do."
Prof Sands says Sir Jeremy Greenstock,
Britain's UN ambassador at the time, told a foreign colleague
he was "clearly uncomfortable" about the failure to
get a second resolution. Foreign Office lawyers consistently warned
that an invasion would be regarded as unlawful. The book reveals
that Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the FO's deputy chief legal adviser
who resigned over the war, told the Butler inquiry into the use
of intelligence during the run-up to the war, of her belief that
Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, shared the FO view. According
to private evidence to the Butler inquiry, Lord Goldsmith told
FO lawyers in early 2003: "The prime minister has told me
that I cannot give advice, but you know what my views are".
On March 7 2003 he advised the prime minister
that the Bush administration believed that a case could be made
for an invasion without a second UN resolution. But he warned
that Britain could be challenged in the international criminal
court. Ten days later, he said a second resolution was not necessary.
The Bush page