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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Straw voices differences with Blair on Iraq war

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

London, Feb 2, IRNA -- Former British foreign secretary Jack Straw admitted Wednesday that there was a “difference” with former prime minister Tony Blair over using military action against Iraq ahead of the 2003 war.

In the final public hearing of the Iraq Inquiry, Straw also denied that regime change was ever the reason for joining the US-led invasion, saying that such a policy would have been 'palpably illegal' and that he made this clear to Blair.

'I guess it's true there was a difference of emphasis between the prime minister, who was further out on the issue of what was most desirable, compared with me,' he said.

'I was never on the same page as Vice-President [Dick] Cheney. We had a sort of accommodation,' Straw said when answering questions for the third time at the inquiry, more than any other witness.

He said that some members of the US government had a 'gleam in their eye' when discussing Iraq, suggesting they were keen for a confrontation, but that he did not consider President George W Bush one of those people.

'My experience of President Bush was that, in the end, when faced with decisions, he was much more thoughtful than he was often credited for,' he told the five-member inquiry panel.

Asked about the level of cabinet discussion which took place at the time, the former foreign secretary admitted that there was 'great anxiety about the intentions of the Bush administration' around the table.

'The anxiety was, had the prime minister - who was slightly less left wing than most members of the Cabinet shall we say - had he decided himself to take a different view from the prevailing sentiment in the Cabinet,' he said.

Straw did criticise President Bush's notorious 'axis of evil' speech in January 2002, saying that he could “sense the game change that his statement led to' and had told Blair about his reservations.

Last year, he told the inquiry that the dilemma he faced was that the US was determined to pursue its policy of regime change in Iraq, despite it being illegal under international law.

Questioned about the issue in his last session, the former foreign secretary insisted that regime change in Iraq was 'never' UK policy even though some within government may have wanted Saddam Hussein removed.

Although he had a 'difference of emphasis' with the prime minister about how to proceed against Iraq, he said they were 'on the same page' in trying to get Iraq to comply through the UN.

If that had happened, Straw told the hearing that he genuinely believed that war could be averted after the UN security council passed resolution 1441.

'I might be accused of naivety but I believe that because of the force of 1441 we'd be able to resolve this peacefully, so the issue of a second resolution would not arise,' he said.

'There would have been no possibility of the UK being involved in military action, at all, and I do not think that even if President Bush had been ill-advised enough to want to go to war, he would have done so.”

The inquiry is now starting to write its report, which is due to take month before it is finally published. Originally, inquiry chair Sir John Chilcot said that he had hoped to complete the report by the end of 2010.

Critics of the inquiry, including Stop the War Coalition, are seeking to put Blair on trial for war crimes but believe the report will be a whitewash.

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