New pre-Iraq war memo leaked

Friday, February 3, 2006

Tony Blair and George W. Bush shaking hands in the White House on November 12, 2004

British television station Channel 4 News and newspaper The Guardian have reported that they have obtained a secret transcript of a meeting between United States President George W. Bush and British prime minister Tony Blair on January 31, 2003, two months before the beginning of the Iraq war. The memo has been viewed by Phillipe Sands, a professor of international law at University College London, and by Channel 4 news. Last year, Professor Sands reported on doubts about the legality of the invasion in Iraq voiced by government lawyers, which eventually forced the British government to publish the full legal advice given to them by the attorney general.

According to the two sources, the transcript suggests that the invasion of Iraq was already decided at the point of the meeting, and that Bush had stated that "the diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning". Blair is reportedly quoted as responding that he is "solidly with the president and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam".

The memo from the sources also states that Bush suggested "flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft planes with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours", so that "if Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach [of UN resolutions]".

According to the memo, President Bush said he "thought it unlikely that there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups".

The British government did not deny the existence of the memo last night, but insisted that "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 that they "do not comment on the prime minister's conversations with other leaders."

The BBC reported that Chief spokesman for the National Security Council Frederick Jones said that "the White House would not comment on what was said or not said in alleged private conversations between Mr Bush and foreign leaders," and added that the White House "was not going to re-litigate how the nation went to war".

The purported document has not been confirmed as authentic by either government so far.