Downing Street rebukes Short for second time over comments on Bush

Terror in America: The Cabinet
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Indy Politics

Downing Street was forced to rebuke the outspoken cabinet minister Clare Short for the second time in a week yesterday after she attacked American policy in the Middle East.

The Secretary of State for International Development accused the United States of relying too heavily on military muscle and attacked President George Bush's call for a "crusade" against the terrorists behind the suicide attacks in New York and Washington.

Her latest comments embarrassed Tony Blair on the eve of his talks with President Bush on the crisis and as preparations continued for massive military action. In a pointed one-line statement, Downing Street said: "The Government's policy on this is determined by the Prime Minister."

Earlier this week Downing Street distanced Mr Blair from an interview in which Ms Short called for restraint from Washington's allies, warning against "strident action".

She stepped out of line again in an interview in The Spectator, conducted by its editor, Boris Johnson, who is also the Conservative MP for Henley. She said: "I think we all understand that America feels so angry they want to get somebody, but you can't just have lots of planes and guns and ships, and make everybody do your bidding." She said it was "very unfortunate" that President Bush had demanded a crusade against the perpetrators of last week's atrocities.

"I'm sure he didn't mean it. When you read back into the Crusades, the behaviour of the Crusaders was much less civilised than Saladin's."

In a wide-ranging critique of Western policy in the Middle East, she said the time had come for a "more intelligent policy" towards Iraq than relying on sanctions and called for action to address the "endless suffering" of the Palestinians.

Asked what it was that America's enemies resented about the country, she replied: "I think any objective and fair person feels that the Palestinians are not getting a fair deal and that their sufferings as a people are unjust, and that the West needs to put a much bigger effort into getting a just resolution in Palestine, and that is felt very powerfully in the Arab world."

Pressed on why she did not make her points to Mr Blair and Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, she said: "I do say this, rather more briefly, in the Cabinet."

Ms Short resigned from the Labour front bench in 1991 in protest over the party's support for the Gulf War.