Jordanian role in Iraq arms 'ignored': Warning on weapons deal dismissed as 'irrelevant'

JORDAN was left off a British government blacklist of countries suspected of spreading nuclear, biological and chemical weapons despite intelligence warnings that Iraq was using its neighbour to breach United Kingdom defence export guidelines.

The Scott inquiry heard yesterday how military intelligence and secret service reports dating back to 1985 warning that Jordan was helping Baghdad acquire military equipment in breach of United Nations sanctions were ignored by Foreign Office officials.

The officials successfully fought to keep Jordan's name off a 1991 government list to identify countries believed to be involved in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Simon Fuller, of the Foreign Office's Near East and North Africa department (Nenad), dismissed the reports as 'irrelevant'. He claimed that they failed to prove the Jordanian government 'irrefutably connived in or turned a blind eye to' the Iraqi diversions.

The intelligence reports described how Jordan acted as a 'front' for the Iraqi military procurement network. As many as 100 companies were set up in Jordan to buy defence equipment for Iraq which it was banned from buying direct. One document detailed 21 new contracts, the majority destined for Baghdad. Another reported Iraqi attempts to intimidate a Jordanian into purchasing spares for their air force.

Lord Justice Scott put it to Mr Fuller that the attitude of Nenad was to discount intelligence 'unless it was of a nature that practically found a smoking gun in hand'. Mr Fuller claimed that apart from two isolated cases there were no instances of British-made armaments reaching Iraq through Jordon.

Mr Fuller denied their concern was to protect relations with Jordon rather than prepare an accurate list. He said: 'There was very serious concern that serious public criticisms should not be made against Jordan unless they were both necessary and justified.

'It is not about being nice to old friends. There is an element of that and I'm not ashamed about it.' He said it was about dealing with a country whose position between Iraq and Israel meant it was strategically vital. Jordan was going through 'an extremely difficult time' when the 'dangers of instability could hardly be over-estimated' he said.

If evidence existed that the Jordanian government had diverted chemical weapons to Iraq the Foreign Office would have acted, he said.

Intelligence reports presented to a Cabinet Office meeting in November 1991 revealed that chemicals used in manufacturing explosives were obtained by Iraq via Jordan.