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Blair had time scale for war against Iraq: Short

Blair had a long-standing secret agreement with President Bush to join America in an Iraq invasion?

Tony Jones speaks to Clare Short, a former senior minister in the Blair Government in the United Kingdom who quit last month. Ms Short resigned as the International Development Secretary after she accused Prime Minister Tony Blair of exaggerating the threat posed by Iraq.

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Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Compere: Tony Jones
Reporter: Tony Jones


TONY JONES: Clare Short thanks for joining us.

CLARE SHORT: Good to be here.

TONY JONES: How can you be so confident that PM Blair had a long-standing secret agreement with President Bush to join America in an Iraq invasion?

CLARE SHORT:I think there's no other explanation for what took place.

Why did we allow the international community to become so bitterly divided?

Why did we shorten the Blix inspection process so that we had a unanimous Security Council resolution and Dr Blix had achieved the dismanualing of 64 ballistic missiles?

There's no explanation for that bitter division and everything that's flowed from it, other than there was a time scale for war.

I've got other reasons for thinking so.

I was informed of it by senior people, but at that time our PM was assuring me and everyone else we would have a second resolution and I preferred to believe that, but I think the way in which we misrepresented the French position, our PM pretended that France said it wouldn't support any second resolution when actually President Chirac said Blix must do his work but if he can't get rid of the weapons of mass destruction it must come back to the Security Council and there would have to be an authorisation of war.

A series of deceits, the only explanation is they had a fixed time scale for the conflict.

TONY JONES: You mentioned there that you were told by some senior people.

You told the select committee inquiry you were briefed by three senior intelligence officials, or so that appears.

What can you tell us?

CLARE SHORT: I didn't say three.

I was briefed repeatedly by intelligence officials, but I'm not saying three intelligence officials are my sources.

I had raw intelligence and all the assessments of the intelligence and saw our intelligence services on a number of occasions in the run-up to the conflict.

That is true.

TONY JONES: Was it intelligence sources that confirmed for you that there was a secret agreement?

CLARE SHORT: I'm not identifying the people for obvious reasons.

There are names put in the press, but I'm not doing that so there's no point in pressing me.

I'm just trying to say to people look at the strands of evidence.

Personally I was informed in this way, why did our PM mislead us about the French position?

Why was the Blix inspection process brought to a premature end when that caused all the bitter division in the world, which made everything more difficult and then there's a book, the 'Guardian' newspaper with full cooperation from the people in number 10 working closely with Tony Blair that's been published recently that has a part of it saying that by September Bush and Blair agreed they had to take military action against Saddam Hussein.

There's a whole series of strands of evidence that I think are very compelling.

There was a timetable for war and that's why the UN process was broken and the international community became so fractured.

TONY JONES: Clare Short I appreciate you can't name your sources, but these people must -

CLARE SHORT: I could, but I won't.

TONY JONES: These people must have known that you were dubious about the war.

Why were they briefing you?

CLARE SHORT: Well, the PM was very keen to keep me in the Government for obvious reasons.

I had had a series of personal meetings with him as well and had asked to be given the full - I already saw all the intelligence because in my job I had a lot to do with the intelligence services and information about different conflicts in Africa and India, Pakistan and Nepal and so on and so forth, so I already had a relationship with those organisations, but when I asked for a personal briefing, it was initially obstructed and then I pressed the PM to give permission and he knew he had to try and keep me happy or I would be likely to go and that might make his life more difficult.

TONY JONES: Was it during the course of those briefings that you learnt of the secret agreement with President Bush?

CLARE SHORT: Please, there's no point in coming back and pressing me on this.

I won't name the people.

TONY JONES: I'm sorry to interrupt you -

CLARE SHORT: You're coming back to the same point.

TONY JONES: I'm only asking how you can be so sure that there was a secret agreement?

We don't have to name the people?

CLARE SHORT: I've summarised the reasons why and explained it in my testimony to the House of Commons foreign affairs select committee and I've written about it.

That's my testimony and people have to decide what they think.

If you try to narrow it down in order to identify who, I'm not going to name them so then we're not - you're wasting your time.

TONY JONES: I'm clearly not trying to do that, but I'm wondering if there was any evidence, anything in writing, if notes were taken between Blair and Bush during the time they were making this agreement, if anything exists there to backup what you're saying?

CLARE SHORT: I wasn't at the meetings when Tony Blair went to the US and met with President Bush.

I imagine the British civil service, and I imagine Australia's the same, has a deep and long tradition of keeping minutes of meetings.

I imagine there's all sorts of people with all sorts of notebooks.

Of course what is turned into formal notes of meetings usually contains less detail.

Whether any of that ends up coming out, we will see.

TONY JONES: Your charge, however, is that after making the secrete agreement with the President, Mr Blair went on to mislead his cabinet, the Parliament and indeed the British people.

Is that right?

CLARE SHORT: Well, what I'm saying is that there's a series of exaggerations, half-truths or deceits.

The first one is talking about weapons of mass destruction as though you've got weapons and imminently usable chemical and biological weapons, rather than scientists and laboratories and efforts by the regime to try to develop.

That's the first exaggeration that makes the threat seem imminent.

The second thing was then to promise a UN process, full integrity for the Blix process and a second resolution and then to bring that to an end before Blix could complete his work and mislead us about what the French position was.

So there's a series of half truths, keeping Britain happy, reassuring us endlessly we would stick with the UN route, when other promises have been made - and then misleading us why Blix couldn't go on and exaggerating the imminence of the threat.

It's that package of deceits, exaggerations, half truths, that got us to war earlier than was necessary and meant that we didn't explore the possibility of getting Iraq disarmed through the Blix inspection process and we didn't look for possibilities of look bringing down the Saddam Hussein regime by indictment and bringing him to an international tribunal, as we did, for example, with Milosevic.

That comes down to was it a just war?

The teaching on a just war is very clear - The cause has to be just.

Getting rid of Saddam Hussein and making him comply with the UN is just.

The force has been to be proportionate and winnable and there has to be no other way.

The PM when he persuaded me to remain in the Government when I was about to resign when the conflict was declared, gave me assurances that the reconstruction of Iraq would be properly done with a proper UN lead into the bringing together the Iraqi administration and the creation of a constitution and electoral process - and all of that was breached as well.

So I think there was deceit on the way up to war and I found out about some of it afterwards, like the misrepresentation of the French position and then the personal assurances I'd been given about how the country would be rebuilt were broken.

It was impossible for me -

TONY JONES: Would you agree -

CLARE SHORT: Of course -

TONY JONES: Would you agree though if the PM indeed made a secret agreement with President Bush to go to war without telling the cabinet, the Parliament or the British people that, that would be a deceit sufficient to cost him his job?

CLARE SHORT: Well, what I'm doing is putting my testimony in front of people in the UK and our Parliament and I have said I think it's time for Tony Blair to organise an "elegant handover" as I put it.

But it's for others, ultimately, to decide.

I can't decide this alone.

What is very important is that Britain looks into the detail of this, learns the lessons of how we got there, sees whether our political system isn't become defective and concentrating too much power in the personal hands of the PM and indeed that we learn the lessons.

There's chaos on the ground in Iraq.

I think some of the secrecy with which decisions were made meant there wasn't preparation for the post-conflict situation.

That's very dangerous and we must focus on trying to put that right as well.

TONY JONES: Are you claiming that intelligence information was distorted and exaggerated or was it falsified by officials at 10 Downing Street?

CLARE SHORT: I'm suggesting it was exaggerated to suggest there was an imminent threat of the use of weapons of mass destruction, when what there was were scientists and laboratories and work going on because the Saddam Hussein regime was interested in trying to develop chemical and biological weapons.

There was also a suggestion that was made from time to time that there was a potential link between al-Qa'ida and the Saddam Hussein regime and I think everyone now accepts that was never true and there was never any link between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

Indeed, there was a deep hostility between them.

That was the same story suggesting there was a real threat that the weapons would be used and therefore very urgent action was necessary, rather than the possibility of going through the UN and working together and seeing if we could resolve the crisis without war.

TONY JONES: I imagine you know that an Australian - a former Australian intelligence officer, Andrew Wilkie, is about to give evidence today before the same committee you did.

You may also know Australia has a long-standing intelligence sharing relationship with Britain and with the United States.

Do you suspect that Australia was given tainted intelligence by the British at least?

CLARE SHORT: Well, my assessment is not that the intelligence was tainted, but the political apprehension of the intelligence was exaggerated and I think - when no WMD are found and the people of the world are shocked, there was some suggestion in the British press that maybe the intelligence was poor.

I think that really inflamed the British intelligence services who had seen the careful information they'd provided exaggerated for political purposes and that's when they started to brief the media about their allegations that the information they provided was exagerated which has led to all this consternation and helped to lead to the inquiry.

TONY JONES: Have you spoken to Mr Wilkie by any chance?

CLARE SHORT: I haven't.

I heard him on the radio, on UK radio.

I was impressed by the sort of clarity and calmness and authority with which he spoke, but I haven't met him personally.

TONY JONES: Tell me, what do you think about the period ahead?

How much pressure will Tony Blair and other leaders in the coalition of the willing, do you believe, be under if no weapons of mass destruction are found?

You've probably heard in the piece proceeding this interview people in the street saying they more or less don't care anymore?

CLARE SHORT: Well, actually, there was a mixture of voices there.

I think one of the effects of all this on our Government is that the trust in our PM in the country has declined.

That's a serious matter.

People need to be able to trust their PM and their Government.

So they might not be fixated on the details of what's going on Iraq, but people feel they have been deceived and they do mind about that and it reduces the trust in the Government.

That's a serious effect.

I think the other thing is - no WMD found, somehow the coalition hasn't allowed the UN weapons inspectors back, why not?

What have they got to hide.

On top of that and more urgently, continuing chaos in Iraq.

50 US soldiers have died since the conflict ended in Iraq.

Lots of Iraqis have died.

The danger of continuing and bitter division in Iraq is bad for all of us, bad for the US it's bad for the coalition, Iraq and the Middle East.

The idea is things aren't well in Iraq and it wasn't well considered and wasn't well organised I'm afraid won't go away.

TONY JONES: Clare Short, a quick answer on this, we're almost out of time, but like Tony Blair, the Australian PM John Howard is saying it's simply too early to say whether there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

We must wait and have patience.

What do you say to that?

CLARE SHORT: Well, it won't do.

We had to take military action because the weapons were so dangerous and now in this chaotic place where we're told there are guerrillas loyal to Saddam Hussein and fighting against the Coalition, we're told they haven't got time to look for it.

It doesn't stack up, it doesn't make sense.

If it was such an imminent danger, we should get hold of it.

TONY JONES: Clare Short, thanks for taking the time to come in and talk to us.

We'll see you again hopefully.

CLARE SHORT: It's my pleasure

 

 Copyright 2003 Australian Broadcasting Corporation


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