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Bush, Blair decided to go to war months before UN meetings

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Report: Bush, Blair decided to go to war months before UN meetings

Bush also allegedly considered painting US plane in UN colors as way to lure Iraq into war.

By Tom Regan | csmonitor.com

In a case of yet another leaked memo in Britain, one of the United Kingdom's top international lawyers quotes minutes from a January 31, 2003 meeting between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George Bush in an updated version of his book, "Lawless World", where it appears the two men made the decision to go to war regardless of what the United Nations decided about passing a second resolution that would have allowed the start of the war.

Britain's Channel Four TV network, which says it has seen the minutes of the meeting, reports that during the meeting, Mr. Bush raised the idea of painting US U-2 spy planes in the colors of the United Nations, in the hope that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein would fire on the planes, and thus give the US and Britain a legal basis to attack Iraq. Bush also supposedly said the war against Iraq would start on March 10, 2003. It actually started 10 days later.

In his book, "Lawless World," author Philippe Sands writes that the purpose of the meeting was focused on the need to "identify evidence that Saddam had committed a material breach of his obligations under the existing UN Resolution 1441."

"I think no one would be surprised at the idea that the use of spy-planes to review what is going on would be considered. What is surprising is the idea that they would be used painted in the colours of the United Nations in order to provoke an attack which could then be used to justify material breach. Now that plainly looks as if it is deception, and it raises some fundamental questions of legality, both in terms of domestic law and international law."

The BBC reports that the minutes of the meeting show that President Bush thought it unlikely that there would be any internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups. Mr. Sands' book says the minutes of the meeting were prepared by one of its participants.

Present at the meeting were President Bush's then-National Security Adviser, Condoleeza Rice (now Secretary of State) and her deputy Daniel Fried, and Bush's chief of staff, Andrew Card. Mr. Blair's group included then-security adviser Sir David Manning, his foreign policy aide Matthew Rycroft, and Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell.

The Guardian, which also said it has seen the original memo, reports that while the memo might not create any problems for Bush, it could create a problem for Blair because of the question of the legality of the war.

In March of 2002, Blair received advice from the Foreign Office that an attack on Iraq would be illegal under international law. Under the UN Charter, the use of force without Security Council endorsement would "not be in conformity with the Charter," and thus be against international law. Under treaties that Britain had signed, such as the International Criminal Court, if a legal basis for the war was not found, Blair and others could at some point find themselves hauled in front of a court on charges.

The Times of London reported in May of last year about a meeting that took place in July of 2002 (one that ultimately resulted in the "Downing Street memo") where Blair and his "inner circle" set about to justify a reason for the war.

Blair has always insisted that he had the legal basis to go to war.

During the January 31, 2003 meeting, Blair allegedly told Bush that he was "solidly" behind the US's decision to go to war in Iraq. At that time, Blair had not yet received a legal opinion that justified going to war. "The diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning", the president told Blair.

The revelation that 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 peacefully."

When asked by The Guardian on Thursday, the prime minister's office did not deny the existence of the memo, 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."

A CNN report says that Thursday night, Sir Menzies Campbell, acting leader of Britain's opposition Liberal Democrat party, said that if the reports about the memo are true, then all the diplomatic efforts after January 2003 were just "going through the motions." Mr. Campbell said "The prime minister has a lot of explaining to do."

"If these allegations are accurate, the prime minister and President Bush were determined to go to war with or without a second UN resolution, and Britain was signed up to do so by the end of January 2003," [Campbell] said in a statement.

"By then it was clear that there was no credible evidence of weapons of mass destruction – the stated justification for the moves against Saddam Hussein."

Late last year, another leaked memo - this time of an April 2004 meeting between Bush and Blair - alleged that Bush suggested that the office of the Arab satellite TV network Al Jazeera in Qatar be bombed. Earlier this month, British sources said the memo did not contain a threat by Bush against the network. Al Jazeera has filed a request under the British Freedom of Information Act to see portions of the memo.


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