Blair to Bush: We Are There for You; IRAQ WAR INQUIRY: Campbell Tells of Secret Messages

Article excerpt

Byline: GAVIN CORDON ; MARK BULSTRODE

TONY Blair sent George Bush secret messages in the year before the invasion of Iraq assuring him Britain would "be there" if it came to military action, the inquiry into the war heard yesterday.

Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's controversial communications director, said the notes were regarded as so sensitive they were not circulated in Whitehall in the normal way.

However he insisted that despite the then prime minister's "instinct" that he should be with the Americans, he remained committed to finding a diplomatic resolution to the crisis right up until the eve of invasion in March 2003.

During five hours of testimony - two hours longer than scheduled - Mr Campbell mounted a robust defence of the Government policy saying Britain should be "proud" of its role in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

In a typically combative performance, he dismissed suggestions he had sought to "beef up" the Government's controversial dossier on Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

He disclosed also that Gordon Brown, who was then chancellor, was part of Mr Blair's "inner circle" of key ministers and advisers who he consulted in private on Iraq.

Mr Campbell denied claims Mr Blair had committed himself to military action when he met Mr Bush at the president's Texas ranch at Crawford in April 2002 - 11 months before the invasion.

He strongly rejected the earlier evidence of Sir Christopher Meyer - then Britain's ambassador to the US - that the meeting had marked a fundamental shift in Mr Blair's position.

He did, however, disclose that the Prime Minister sent Mr Bush a series of notes during the course of 2002 in which he sought to assure him of Britain's support if it came to war. "The Prime Minister wrote quite a lot of notes to the President," he said.

"I would say the tenor of them was that ... we share the analysis, we share the concern, we are going to be with you in making sure that Saddam Hussein is faced up to his obligations and that Iraq is disarmed.

If that cannot be done diplomatically and it is to be done militarily, Britain will be there.

He said that only a handful of the most senior figures - including himself, Mr Blair's foreign policy adviser Sir David Manning, and Mr Campbell "would have thought" Foreign Secretary Jack Straw - were aware of them. …