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UK Politics

Tony Blair and George Bush's phone conversation a week before Iraq invasion 'must be released'


Words that Tony Blair spoke over the phone to George Bush on the eve of the Iraq war are to be made public, a tribunal ordered today.

The Foreign Office has been ordered to release parts of the note detailing the conversation on 12 March 2003, a week before the invasion of Iraq began.

A panel chaired by tribunal judge Professor John Angel overruled objections from the Foreign Office that publishing any part of the conversation could do “serious damage” to relations with the USA

They said in their ruling: “The circumstances surrounding a decision by a UK government to go to war with another country is always likely to be of very significant public interest, even more so with the consequences of this war.”

The two leaders are believed to have discussed whether they should go to the United Nations for a resolution specifically authorising them to go to war.

British and US diplomats had worked frantically to try to win over a majority of  members of the Security Council. Then on 10 March, France’s President Jacques Chirac told French TV that even if there was a majority, France would vote ‘no’, thus vetoing the resolution. It was likely that Russia would also wield a veto.

It was after hearing President Chirac’s remarks that Tony Blair finally gave up the quest for a second UN resolution, a decision he is assumed to have conveyed to President Bush in that 12 March phone call.

Jack Straw, who was Foreign Secretary at the time of the Iraq war told the subsequent Chilcot Inquiry: "This was the great Chiracian pronouncement. Whatever the circumstances, he says, La France will veto."

Documents released by the inquiry into the war show that the French repeatedly protested at the interpretation which Britain put on Chirac’s words, but their objections were ignored.

Sir John Holmes, who was Britain's Ambassador to France at the time, told the inquiry that “there was ambiguity” in the President’s remarks.

The tribunal ordered that an edited version of the note should be released within 30 days.

An FCO spokesman said: “The FCO is obviously disappointed by the decision of the tribunal. We will want to study the terms of the judgment more closely over the coming days.”