Skip to comments.Jack Straw denies he and Powell 'wobbled' over the Iraqi WMD
Posted on 05/31/2003 5:44:19 PM PDT by Pokey78
The Foreign Office mounted a fightback yesterday against allegations that Jack Straw and Colin Powell had expressed serious doubts about whether Baghdad possessed weapons of mass destruction before the start of the Iraq war.
As Tony Blair faced allegations from a former Cabinet colleague that he had "duped" the British people over Saddam Hussein's weapons capabilities, the Foreign Office issued a detailed rebuttal of allegations, made in the Guardian newspaper, that were seized on by news media around the world.
The paper said Mr Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and Mr Powell, his United States counterpart, had privately expressed serious doubts about the quality of intelligence on Iraq's banned weapons programme.
The seriousness of the allegation is heightened because these doubts were allegedly expressed just before claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were publicly trumpeted in an attempt to win United Nations support for a war.
Their deep concerns about the intelligence was said to have emerged at a private meeting between the two men at the Waldorf Hotel in New York, shortly before a key UN Security Council session on February 5.
The Foreign Secretary reportedly expressed concern that claims being made by Mr Blair and President Bush could not be proved. The problem, Mr Straw, allegedly explained was the lack of corroborative evidence to back up the claims and that much of the intelligence was composed of assumptions and assessments not supported by hard facts or other sources. According to the report, Mr Powell shared this concern about intelligence assessments, especially those being presented by the Pentagon's office of special plans set up by Paul Wolfowitz, the US deputy defence secretary.
He allegedly told Mr Straw that he had come away from the meetings "apprehensive" about what he called, at best, circumstantial evidence highly tilted in favour of assessments - rather than any actual raw intelligence.
Mr Powell allegedly told the Foreign Secretary he hoped that the facts, when they came out, would not "explode in their faces".
Last night, however, the Foreign Office issued a detailed denial of the story. A senior official said Mr Straw was not in America on February 4 or early the next day. He had been in France, attending a Franco-British summit.
The official said: "He didn't go to New York until February 5 [the day of the alleged meeting] and had no time to meet Colin Powell at the Waldorf. This story is simply untrue. There was no meeting and no such conversation."
Such a categorical denial would be unusual if there really was a transcript of a meeting in which the two men had expressed scepticism - and which could surface at any time.
Dan Plesch, the journalist who originated the story, is a fellow of the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall, the world's oldest defence think tank. He has consistently spoken out against the dossier the British Government produced in September, which claimed that there were still weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
In an interview last October, he poured scorn on the dossier and said it had exaggerated Saddam's capabilities.
He said: "There may be a reason and there may be an argument for invading Iraq, but this dossier doesn't really produce that."
Yesterday, Mr Plesch was still insisting that the story of doubts from Mr Straw and Mr Powell was true. He said there was a "chink" in the Foreign Office statement which meant they were not fully denying it. He admitted, however, that he had not seen the transcript of their meeting, but had been approached by a "source" he had known for many years.
He said: "It would be extraordinary if Mr Straw and Mr Powell did not meet at some point during those 24 hours."
The British dossier, which has already run into controversy after No 10 was accused of making it "sexier", was compiled by the security service and written by the Joint Intelligence Committee, which brings together MI5, MI6 and other officials.
An unnamed intelligence official told the BBC on Thursday that a key claim in the dossier - that Iraq could launch a chemical or biological attack within minutes of an order - was inserted on the instructions of Downing Street. Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces minister, admitted that the claim was made by "a single source; it wasn't corroborated".
The White House declined to react to the allegations last night although, intriguingly, Mr Plesch said the documents could surface as part of an inquiry by the German parliament into intelligence reports during the war.
But not to worry, others are already being spawned to take its place.
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