Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry into the Iraq War has finally reached an agreement with the US over the release of secret communications between the then-Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George Bush.
The publication of 25 “notes” and more than 130 records of conversations has been a major stumbling block for the inquiry into the 2003 invasion, and a letter addressed to Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood has now acknowledged the “difficult issues of long-standing principle” this raised.
As well as finalising a deal with White House lawyers, Sir John’s inquiry will now have access to records of more than 200 UK cabinet and cabinet committee meetings – and some of the “most critical” extracts from minutes will be made available to the public in full.
Sir John wrote yesterday that there had never been a prospect of “notes or records of discussions between the UK Prime Minister and the President of the US [being] disclosed in their entirety, even with redactions”.
But he added that the inquiry had secured “quotes and gists of the content” that would be “sufficient to explain our conclusions”.
Tony Blair: A career of controversies
Tony Blair: A career of controversies
1/11 The Tony Blair 'selfie'.. A journalist takes a picture of Kennard Phillips 'Photo Op', depicting Prime Minister Tony Blair taking a 'selfie' in front of an explosion in Iraq, during a press viewing of the exhibition Catalyst: Contemporary Art and War
2/11 Protesters pictured outside the QEII Conference centre in London in 2011 as former British PM Tony Blair give his evidence in the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry
3/11 David Lawley-Wakelin, who disrupted Tony Blair’s testimony at the Leveson Inquiry by bursting into the court
4/11 Blair giving evidence
5/11 Tony Blair visiting troops in Iraq in 2007
6/11 Blair meeting with troops in Basra, Iraq in 2003
7/11 Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks to British soldiers at Divisional Headquaters in Basra, May 2007
8/11 British Prime Minister Tony Blair eats dinner with British troops in Basra, Iraq, 21 December, 2004
9/11 Syrian president Bashar El Assad during his official visit to the United Kingdom in 2002. Mr Blair tried to engage Mr Garcia in a conversation about Syria. The former Prime Minister made clear he was very much in favour of military intervention last summer.
10/11 Syrian president Bashar El Assad and wife Asma during their official visit to the United Kingdom in 2002. Mr Blair tried to engage Mr Garcia in a conversation about Syria
11/11 Former Prime Minister Tony Blair's signature adorns a program he signed for an Iraq veteran during a reception at the Guildhall in London following the service of commemoration at St Paul's Cathedral honouring UK military and civilian personnel who served in Iraq
Sir John said that consideration of the material by the inquiry had already begun – but he warned that there will still need to be another phase of Maxwellisation, whereby those mentioned in the final report are given a right of reply.
Earlier this month it was reported that while a deal between the inquiry and White House lawyers was close, there was one key “note” which US officials have “not been able to locate”.
In the letter, which predates the March 2003 Commons vote on whether Britain was to go to war, Mr Blair is said to have told the US President: “You know, George, whatever you decide to do, I'm with you.” The letter was reportedly hand-delivered by Manning to Bush’s national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
The letter has been described as the most important among all the correspondence in determining whether or not Mr Blair gave Mr Bush a “blank cheque” on Britain’s cooperation.
More than three years have now passed since the inquiry completed its public hearings, and David Cameron has described it as “frustrating” that the publication has been so delayed, saying that the public “want to see the answers”.
Mr Blair said on Tuesday that he resents claims he has been involved in delaying the findings of the inquiry.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “I don't know what the reason for the delay is because I'm not in charge of the inquiry and not in charge of the Government.
“All I can tell you it is not for me and I resent the suggestion that it is.
“I have got as much interest as anyone in seeing the inquiry publish its findings and then be able to go out and frankly restate my case and defend my position,” he said.