(Oct. 5) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair privately admitted before the Iraq war that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction that could be used within 45 minutes, former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has claimed.
Cook, who resigned from government in protest ahead of the war, also claims Blair "deliberately crafted suggestive phrasing" to mislead the public into thinking there was a link between Iraq and al Qaeda.
A spokesman for Blair calls Cook's allegations "absurd."
The claims are included in a book based on diaries Cook kept during the tense period in the run-up to war, extracts of which were published in The Sunday Times.
Blair's Downing Street office dismissed the claims as "absurd."
"The idea that the prime minister ever said that Saddam Hussein didn't have weapons of mass destruction is absurd," a spokesman said.
"His views have been consistent throughout, both publicly and privately, as his Cabinet colleagues know.
"Robin Cook's views are well known and have been expressed many times before."
In his book, "Point of Departure," the former foreign secretary said he was most troubled by a conversation he had with Blair on March 5, two weeks before the war began.
At the time, Britain was still trying to get a new U.N. resolution to authorize war, and Cook was still in government as leader of the House of Commons.
Cook said he told Blair that briefings he had received made it clear that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction "in a sense of weapons that could strike at strategic cities."
He said he asked the prime minister if he was concerned that Saddam might use chemical munitions against British troops.
Cook said Blair's response was: "Yes, but all the effort he has had to put into concealment makes it difficult for him to assemble them quickly for use."
Cook said the prime minister's response left him "deeply troubled."
"Tony did not try to argue me out of the view that Saddam did not have real weapons of mass destruction that were designed for strategic use against city populations and capable of being delivered with reliability over long distances," Cook wrote.
Cook said he had also expressed that view to John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and that Scarlett had similarly failed to correct him.
"I had now expressed that view to both the chairman of the JIC and the prime minister and both had assented to it," Cook wrote.
Cook said he had no reason to doubt that Blair believed that Saddam had WMD ready for firing within 45 minutes in September 2002, when the claim was first aired in a government dossier on Iraqi weapons.
But he added: "What was clear from this conversation was that he did not believe it himself in March."
Cook said he was also troubled by his March 5 exchange with Blair because "the timetable to war was plainly not driven by the progress of the U.N. weapons inspections.
"Tony made no attempt to pretend that what (then-chief U.N. weapons inspector) Hans Blix might report would make any difference to the countdown to invasion," Cook wrote in a March 5 entry.
In the first memoir from a member of Blair's cabinet, Cook also writes that Blair was "far too clever" to allege there was a real link between Saddam and al Qaeda.
"But he deliberately crafted a suggestive phrasing which in the minds of many views must have created an impression, and was designed to create the impression, that British troops were going to Iraq to fight a threat from al Qaeda," Cook wrote in a February 6 entry.
Cook also said there was near mutiny in the Cabinet when it first discussed military action in Iraq -- which suggests there was greater opposition to war than the government has acknowledged.
Cook said two Cabinet ministers -- Home Secretary David Blunkett and Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt -- raised objections to Blair's policy on Iraq as early as March 2002, leaving the prime minister "out on a limb".
It was "the nearest thing I've heard to a mutiny in Cabinet," Cook wrote.
With the British public already against Blair's stance on the war, this can only further erode his leadership.
Cedarjet From United Kingdom, joined May 1999, 7713 posts, RR: 55 Reply 4, posted (9 years 7 months 3 weeks 2 days 20 hours ago) and read 642 times:
"Robin Cook is a showboater and needs to sell books." Sure, he made the whole thing up.
N79969, one thing I really like about the UK is that libel law is really strict. There are a lot of biogs (notably 'The Royals' by Kitty Kelly) which have never been published in the UK, because if you say something here in print you have to be able to prove it. See where I'm going with this?
fly Saha Air 707s daily from Tehran's downtown Mehrabad to Mashhad, Kish Island and Ahwaz
GDB From United Kingdom, joined May 2001, 12715 posts, RR: 80 Reply 6, posted (9 years 7 months 3 weeks 2 days 20 hours ago) and read 630 times:
It might be true, but Cook is a bitter man, long fancied the Labour leadership for himself, plus after the 2001 election he got demoted after being a poor Foreign Secretary.
Not as bad as Clare Short though, she who was going to resign, then did not, then did, always now on air being totally surprised that Blair has not taken HER advice and resigned.
How dare he!
Eg777er From United Kingdom, joined Feb 2000, 1829 posts, RR: 13 Reply 7, posted (9 years 7 months 3 weeks 2 days 19 hours ago) and read 623 times:
Can't stand the man's political beliefs, but I'm warming to him personally. He seems to be the only Labour minister for a long time that stands up for what he believes in; and was willing to resign over such an important issue.
N79969, since when has standing up for your principles been "showboating"? I call it honour and integrity.
Donder10 From Canada, joined Oct 2001, 6659 posts, RR: 23 Reply 9, posted (9 years 7 months 3 weeks 2 days 19 hours ago) and read 610 times:
If anything,Blair has come out of this rather well.He was expected to get a hard time at the party conference from members and backbenchers yet neither materialised.If anything, it could prove to be the catalyst for him to undertake the serious reforms he plans without the shackles of trying to keep all sides sweet and potential leadership challenges even if Brown continues to carry support(did anybody else see his thunder-esque face durign the applause for Blair's speach?)
It does seem like a remarkable case of deja vu with a 20 year gap!
GDB From United Kingdom, joined May 2001, 12715 posts, RR: 80 Reply 11, posted (9 years 7 months 3 weeks 2 days 18 hours ago) and read 600 times:
The big problem in all this is that Blair believes in intervention to oust who he sees as evil regimes, only politics have kept him from taking out the likes of Mugabe, and as he puts it, "that lot in Burma".
Fact is, he's been for getting rid of Saddam for years.
Now many of his party, and much of the public, might not like that, but acting so surprised won't do, they've clearly not been listening to what he's been saying on this since becoming PM.
If Clinton had not been so compromised by all that puritan stuff about blow-jobs, cigars and stained dresses in 1998, we'd be having this discussion nearly 5 years before.
Because during the UN inspector crisis that year, the Joint Chiefs were told to draw up a plan for regime change, but seeing the 'wag the dog' accusations that came with the Tomahawk strikes on OBL in Afghanistan, after the US Embassy bombings in Africa, that was never going to fly.
(And those strikes were only carried out as the US military opposed putting troops into Afghanistan then as memories of Somila were too fresh, along with what had happened to the USSR there, as well as a lack of decent intelligence on targets, the reaction of other Afghan factions, etc).
You have to wonder if a lot of the opposition on Iraq now is actually more to do with the general dislike of Bush and his gang in the UK, not only on Iraq, but in the nature of the US administration generally, which I totally understand.
However, Blair does not have the luxury to pick and choose, he has to work with the leaders of other allies, no matter what he privately thinks of them.
Not only of the US, but of EU nations too.
Pro-European as he is, I doubt if he has much time for the machinations of other EU members, in any case, rightly or wrongly he thinks that complaining from the sidelines is not in the UKs interest, he thinks that he can only have real influence in the US if he's prepared to put his money where his mouth is.
Of course the UK's election system and his big majority means he has more freedom of action than most EU governments, with their often coalition governments.
Eg777er From United Kingdom, joined Feb 2000, 1829 posts, RR: 13 Reply 13, posted (9 years 7 months 3 weeks 2 days 18 hours ago) and read 594 times:
Agreed, but what's becoming increasingly apparent is that he has as little influence in the White House as he has in the EU! Consider the protectionist steel tarrifs (harming what heavy industry the UK has left) and the US-EU CAP reform arguments at the WTO.
If this issue turns out to be true, Bush could easily cut Blair loose to save his own skin (by suggesting Blair lied to him?). That would leave Blair very isolated indeed....no American friends, no European friends.