Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Downing Street memo: Iraq and the U.N. route

...After his return from Washington, officials and analysts say, Blair sought to unify the fractious elements within his government and party around a policy of coercive diplomacy. "Blair comes back from Crawford with a clear sense that the Americans are preparing for war," said Michael Clarke, director of the International Policy Institute at King's College, who met with policymakers at key points during the year. "But the British approach is slightly different -- that we are preparing for war as a means of forcing Iraq to comply so that we don't actually have to fight."

By the early summer of 2002, officials said, there was a new sense of alarm and concern in London. The Bush administration had not committed to seeking U.N. support, and U.S. forces were increasing flyovers and other military activities that officials feared could be provocative. Meanwhile, opinion polls were showing that a majority of Britons opposed military action and 160 members of Parliament had signed a proposed resolution urging caution.

Several senior officials were dispatched to the United States for consultations. When they returned to London, a meeting was scheduled that produced two more secret documents. The first was a Cabinet Office briefing paper dated July 21 that expressed concern that stepped-up U.S. air raids inside Iraq created "the risk that military action is precipitated in an unplanned way."

The briefing paper also said that a Security Council resolution setting up the return of U.N. inspectors to Iraq could be drafted in a way that Hussein would find unacceptable. "It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject (because he is unwilling to accept unfettered access) and which would not be regarded as unreasonable by the international community," the memo reported.

On July 23, officials gathered at Blair's office. Among them were Straw; Manning; Richard Dearlove, chief of Britain's MI6 intelligence agency; Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon; Attorney General Peter Goldsmith; and Adm. Michael Boyce, chief of the Defense Staff.

Dearlove, a veteran intelligence operative with a reputation for being hard-nosed and ambitious, had just returned from a visit to Washington, where officials say he met with Rice and CIA Director George J. Tenet.

According to the July 23 memo, Dearlove reported "a perceptible shift in attitude" in Washington. "Military action was now seen as inevitable," the memo said, adding that the president's National Security Council "had no patience with the U.N. route." Dearlove also included the observation that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

Straw, who was consulting daily with his American counterpart, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, reiterated that "it seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided," according to the memo. But, Straw added, "the case was thin." He urged the government to produce a plan for an ultimatum to allow U.N. weapons inspectors to return to Iraq.

The memo indicates that officials believed Iraq had such weapons. What would happen, asked Boyce, if Hussein "used WMD on day one" of an attack, or on Kuwait? "Or on Israel," Hoon added.

It also suggests that the purpose of British pressure to return to the United Nations was not to settle the crisis peacefully through the inspection system, but to build a legal justification for war. Blair is cited as saying that "it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the U.N. inspectors"....

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