A British diplomat accompanied the American officials who controversially took an early copy of Iraq's declaration on its weapons of mass destruction programmes and spirited it to CIA headquarters.
As a row with the United Nations deepened yesterday over the manner in which the documents were appropriated by the US, Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, took the unusual step of voicing his disquiet at how the American officials were allowed late on Sunday to acquire the declaration. "It was unfortunate and I hope it is not going to be repeated," he said.
Sources confirmed yesterday that a British diplomat was also present when the Americans took possession of the 12,000-page report at the UN, although the diplomat did not go to CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia.
The manoeuvre has infuriated other non-permanent members of the Security Council. Only 48 hours earlier, the Council had agreed that the report should remain in the hands of Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, until he had completed a first analysis and excised elements that might provide arms-making recipes. The understanding was that all 15 members would receive copies.
America then used its diplomatic clout to reverse that decision. It put pressure on Colombia to use its role as current president of the Council to authorise giving it one copy. The United States also agreed to make copies for the four other permanent members – the UK, France, China and Russia. Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, had visited Colombia hours before and promised it additional US aid.
Mr Annan, speaking at a BBC World Service event, said there was nothing technically wrong with the early surrender of the report, but he said "the approach, and the style and the form was wrong because the Council had decided last Friday that nobody would get it". A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office confirmed that one British diplomat accompanied American officials to pick up the declaration late on Sunday. She insisted he was there "to witness the hand-over" because Britain is currently the leader of the Permanent Five.
The revelation will doubtless reinforce the perception in Baghdad that Britain and America are in league to trip up Saddam Hussein and are hijacking a process that was meant to be handled multilaterally by the Security Council. Iraq has already criticised America's insistence on acquiring the early copy as "unprecedented extortion".
Mr Annan insisted that the UN had not become the puppet of Washington or any other capital. "For those who maintain that the UN is being pushed around by the United States, I will remind them to look back to the eight-week period when we were discussing this issue and Washington was quite frustrated that things were not moving fast enough.
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