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NY Times obtains secret memo of Bush, Blair meeting before Iraq war

RAW STORY
Published: Sunday March 26, 2006

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The New York Times reports that a secret memo from January 2003 reveals that President Bush and Prime Minister Blair agreed to invade Iraq even without U.N. backing, RAW STORY has learned.

The article, written by Don Van Natta Jr., addresses the Jan. 31, 2003 memorandum which was leaked to a British author and referenced in February of this year. The New York Times was able to obtain a copy of the secret memo, and confirms most of the reports.

"Two senior British officials confirmed the authenticity of the memo, but declined to talk further about it, citing Britain's Official Secrets Act, which makes it illegal to divulge classified information," the Times reports.

Van Natta's article contains many quotations from the memo that haven't been previously disclosed, and refers to it as "striking in its characterization of frank, almost casual, conversation by Bush and Blair about the most serious subjects."

Bush expected Iraq's army to "fold very quickly," and also told the Prime Minister that he thought the Republican Guard would be "decimated by the bombing."

"As for the future government of Iraq, people would find it very odd if we handed it over to another dictator," Blair is quoted as saying.

According to an article on the memo published by the Guardian in February, "Mr Bush made it clear the US intended to invade whether or not there was a second UN resolution and even if UN inspectors found no evidence of a banned Iraqi weapons programme."

"The diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning", The Guardian reported that Bush told Blair. The prime minister is said to have raised no objection. He is quoted as saying he was "solidly with the president and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam".

The memo is also said to reveal that President Bush suggested "flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft planes with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours," in order to provoke Saddam to shoot on them, therefore putting Iraq in breach of United Nations resolutions.

The memo was first obtained by Philippe Sands, a professor of international law at a British university, who wrote about it in an updated edition of his book, Lawless World.

Excerpts from the article set for the front page of Monday's New York Times:

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In the weeks before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, as the United States and Britain pressed for a second U.N. resolution condemning Iraq, President Bush's public ultimatum to Saddam Hussein was blunt: Disarm or face war.

But behind closed doors, the president was certain that war was inevitable. During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made it clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Blair's top foreign policy adviser and reviewed by The New York Times.

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The memo indicates the two leaders envisioned a quick victory and a transition to a new Iraqi government that would be complicated, but manageable. Bush predicted that it was "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups." Blair agreed with that assessment.

The memo also shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation, including a proposal to paint a U.S. surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire, or assassinating Saddam.

These proposals were first reported last month in the British press, but the memo does not make clear whether they reflected Bush's extemporaneous suggestions or whether they were elements of the government's plan.

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FULL STORY HERE