' knew Iraq threat limited'
The prime minister knew Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction ready for use within 45 minutes, former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has claimed.
10/05/03: (BBC News) Before the war started Mr Blair privately admitted that Saddam Hussein had no weapons posing a "real and present danger", Mr Cook said.
He added that Mr Blair had appeared prepared to go to war regardless of any progress made by UN weapons inspectors.
Downing Street said the claims, made in Mr Cook's new book, were "absurd".
Mr Cook said it became clear that the prime minister did not consider Iraq's weapons an imminent threat when they spoke two weeks before war started.
His book is based on diaries kept during the tense period in the run-up to the conflict.
In extracts published by the Sunday Times Mr Cook also says the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, John Scarlett, "assented" when he suggested Iraq had no WMD which could target large cities.
And he claims that a "large number of ministers" spoke up in cabinet against British involvement in the US-led military action.
It was the nearest thing to a "mutiny" he had seen since Mr Blair took office, said Mr Cook, who quit his cabinet post in March in protest at the prospect of military intervention.
The claims were dismissed by Downing Street.
A spokesman said: "The idea that the prime minister ever said that Saddam Hussein didn't have weapons of mass destruction is absurd.
"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."
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