Sir John Chilcot is facing renewed pressure over his inquiry into the Iraq war following the emergence of a leaked White House memo that appears to prove Tony Blair backed military action a year before seeking a vote in parliament.
The document shows a contrast between Blair’s public position in early 2002 that he was not proposing military action and the private opinion of the US that the British prime minister would “follow our lead”.
The White House memo for former president George W Bush says: “On Iraq, Blair will be with us should military operations be necessary. He is convinced on two points; the threat is real; and success against Saddam will yield more regional success.”
The note from Colin Powell, the former US secretary of state, in March 2002 tells Bush that Blair would “present to you the strategic, tactical and public affairs lines that he believes will strengthen global support for our common cause”.
It added that Blair had the presentational skills to “make a credible public case on current Iraqi threats to international peace”.
The note, obtained by the Mail on Sunday, was written before the famous Crawford summit between Bush and Blair, who has always denied the two countries were on an unstoppable path to war at that point. There were however contemporary newspaper reports that Blair had decided war in Iraq was inevitable.
At the time, Blair said: “This is a matter for considering all the options. We’re not proposing military action at this point in time.”
Sir Christopher Meyer, a former British ambassador to the US, told the Chilcot inquiry that he was not present at the meeting and therefore “not entirely clear to this day ... what degree of convergence was, if you like, signed in blood at the Crawford ranch”.
It comes as Chilcot continues to avoid setting a final deadline for the publication of his long-awaited report into the war.
Alex Salmond, the SNP’s foreign affairs spokesman and Scotland’s former first minister, said “the net was now closing” around Blair and added to concern over Chilcot’s conduct.
“The memo contradicts claims from Mr Blair that all that time he had been seeking diplomatic ways to avoid an invasion. It also adds weight to the evidence given by Sir Christopher Meyer, the former UK ambassador to the United States – to the Chilcot inquiry – that the military timetable and preparation for invasion took precedence over any diplomacy and specifically over the timetable for the weapons inspectors led by Hans Blix,” Salmond said.
“The Chilcot inquiry has still to be published and these revelations will need to be looked at very seriously.
“The inquiry was demanded because people wanted answers, yet six years and £10m later we still have nothing – and the evidence against Blair is piling up.’’
A spokesman for Blair has said the memo is “consistent with what he was saying publicly at the time”.
A further note written in April 2002 draws on information given to the US by a Labour MP, whose name is redacted.
Powell writes: “A sizeable number of his [Blair’s] MPs remain at present opposed to military action against Iraq ... some would favor shifting from a policy of containment of Iraq if they had recent (and publicly usable) proof that Iraq is developing WMD/missiles ... most seem to want some sort of UN endorsement for military action.
“Blair’s challenge now is to judge the timing and evolution of America’s Iraq policy and to bring his party and the British people on board.
“There have been a few speculative pieces in the more feverish press about Labor [sic] unease re Iraq policy … which have gone on to identify the beginnings of a challenge to Blair’s leadership of the party.
“Former cabinet member Peter Mandelson, still an insider, called it all ‘froth’. Nonetheless, this is the first time since the 1997 election that such a story is even being printed.”
Chilcot, who started taking evidence for his inquiry into the Iraq war six years ago, is under pressure to publish his report as soon as possible and has promised David Cameron a timetable for publication.
However, there are already calls for further delays if he has not been given access to this secret memo between Powell and Bush setting out the US view of Britain’s position.
Before the memo appeared, Lord Morris of Aberavon, who was attorney general under Tony Blair between 1997 and 1999, revealed he has laid a motion urging the government to consider discharging Chilcot and forcing him to publish an interim report on what he has found out so far.
This article was written by Rowena Mason, for theguardian.com on Sunday 18th October 2015 10.48 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010