Straw admits 45-minute claim was not part of original draft

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The Foreign Office admitted yesterday that a crucial claim about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction was inserted into a government dossier less than two weeks before it was published.

Jack Straw told MPs a warning that the arms were deployable within 45 minutes was not in an original government paper on the Iraqi threat.

The Foreign Secretary told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that the claim was put into a subsequent Downing Street dossier as soon as intelligence sources had received and processed the information. But he insisted that Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's communications director, had not inserted or exaggerated the allegation in the dossier last September. Foreign Office officials also admitted that another claim about Saddam trying to acquire nuclear material had been based on intelligence from a foreign security service.

Under questioning by the committee, the Foreign Secretary told MPs that an original Foreign Office paper on Iraq's weapons did not include the 45-minute claim when it was circulated in March 2002. Peter Ricketts, political director at the Foreign Office, said its inclusion was not possible because it appeared for the first time only on 9 September, soon after Mr Blair had announced a dossier would be published.

The Prime Minister said on 3 September he would publish the assessment of intelligence on the Iraqi threat. Mr Ricketts said that the 45-minute claim surfaced in a Joint Intelligence Committee report six days later. The JIC then discussed drafts of the dossier twice before it was published on 24 September.

This may help explain why Andrew Gilligan, the BBC's defence correspondent, was told that the dossier was "transformed" in the week before its publication. On Wednesday, Mr Campbell denied inserting the 45-minute claim and said that the first he was aware of it was when it was produced by the JIC in September. "It existed in the very first draft and as far as I am concerned that part of the paper stayed like that," he said.

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