By THOMAS WAGNER, Associated Press Writer Sat Jun 18, 5:55 PM ET
AP : Memos Show British Concern Over Iraq Plans
LONDON - When Prime Minister
Tony Blair's chief foreign policy adviser dined with
Condoleezza Rice six months after Sept. 11, the then-U.S. national security adviser didn't want to discuss
Osama bin Laden or al-Qaida. She wanted to talk about "regime change" in
Iraq, setting the stage for the U.S.-led invasion more than a year later.
President Bush wanted Blair's support, but British officials worried the White House was rushing to war, according to a series of leaked secret Downing Street memos that have renewed questions and debate about Washington's motives for ousting
In one of the memos, British Foreign Office political director Peter Ricketts openly asks whether the Bush administration had a clear and compelling military reason for war.
"U.S. scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and al-Qaida is so far frankly unconvincing," Ricketts says in the memo. "For Iraq, `regime change' does not stack up. It sounds like a grudge between Bush and Saddam."
The documents confirm Blair was genuinely concerned about Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction, but also indicate he was determined to go to war as America's top ally, even though his government thought a pre-emptive attack may be illegal under international law.
"The truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programs, but our tolerance of them post-11 September," said a typed copy of a March 22, 2002 memo obtained Thursday by The Associated Press and written to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
"But even the best survey of Iraq's WMD programs will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile or CW/BW (chemical or biological weapons) fronts: the programs are extremely worrying but have not, as far as we know, been stepped up."
Details from Rice's dinner conversation also are included in one of the secret memos from 2002, which reveal British concerns about both the invasion and poor postwar planning by the Bush administration, which critics say has allowed the Iraqi insurgency to rage.
The eight memos — all labeled "secret" or "confidential" — were first obtained by British reporter Michael Smith, who has written about them in The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times.
"In particular we need to be sure that the outcome of the military action would match our objective... A postwar occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise. As already made clear, the U.S. military plans are virtually silent on this point."
The British worried that, "Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden. Further work is required to define more precisely the means by which the desired end state would be created, in particular what form of government might replace Saddam Hussein's regime and the time scale within which it would be possible to identify a successor."
In the March 22 memo from Foreign Office political director Ricketts to Foreign Secretary Straw, Ricketts outlined how to win public and parliamentary support for a war in Britain: "We have to be convincing that: the threat is so serious/imminent that it is worth sending our troops to die for; it is qualitatively different from the threat posed by other proliferators who are closer to achieving nuclear capability (including Iran)."
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