Blair call to Bush before Iraq attack to be made public

By Andy McSmith

Details of the private telephone call between Tony Blair and George W. Bush on the eve of the Iraq war must finally be made public, a tribunal ruled yesterday.

The Foreign Office has been ordered to release parts of the note describing the conversation on March 12, 2003, a week before the United States-led invasion.

A panel chaired by the tribunal judge, John Angel, overruled objections from the Foreign Office that publishing any part of the exchange could do serious damage to relations with the United States.

The panel ruled that the circumstances surrounding a decision by the British Government to go to war are "always likely to be of very significant public interest", but especially given the consequences of the Iraq invasion.

The two leaders are believed to have discussed whether to go to the United Nations to try to secure a resolution authorising war.

British and US diplomats had worked to win over a majority of members of the Security Council.

Then on March 10, President Jacques Chirac said that even if there was a majority, France would vote "no", thus vetoing the resolution.

Russia was also likely to wield a veto.

After Chirac's remarks, Blair finally gave up the quest for a second United Nations resolution, a decision he is assumed to have conveyed to Bush in the March 12 phone call.

The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, originally ordered the Foreign Office to release notes of the conversation last year after it had turned down a freedom-of-information request from a member of the public.

The Foreign Office contested Graham's decision and appealed to the tribunal to overrule him. But the tribunal yesterday ordered that an edited version of the notes should be released within 30 days.

- Independent

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