Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Blair blames France for Iraq war in reply to diplomat's claims

Tony Blair has angrily rejected the charge by Britain's former ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, that he could have used his "swing vote" to stop the US going to war in Iraq.

Sir Christopher claimed in his outspoken memoirs that Britain's support for military action was "taken for granted" by the White House, after Mr Blair agreed to military action with reservations at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002.

At his monthly press conference yesterday, the Prime Minister responded with claims that the French President, Jacques Chirac, was to blame for the slide to war without a second UN resolution. He said the French had threatened to veto a second UN resolution on Iraq.

Mr Blair told journalists: "If you go back and look at what happened in March 2003, I think you will see that I made the most strenuous efforts to get a second UN resolution and to end up with a second resolution that would have given us more time. The fact is, we couldn't get one for a very simple reason: the French made it clear they would veto any such resolution."

Senior French sources accused Mr Blair of a faulty memory. "Only four out of the 15 members of the Security Council supported a new resolution and Britain needed nine to win approval. It is completely wrong to blame it on France," said one official.

Sir Christopher supported the French in concluding that the French opposition to the draft UN resolution was not final. He said: "I never interpreted the French refusal to accept the draft of a second resolution as a refusal for ever and a day. In diplomacy, you never say never.

"Talking to me in private, French officials accuse America and Britain of deliberately exaggerating France's position to justify going to war without further UN cover."

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