Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

No Major Row over Weapons Warning, Says Hoon

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

No Major Row over Weapons Warning, Says Hoon

Article excerpt

Byline: CHARLES REISS;PATRICK HENNESSY

GEOFF HOON today launched an urgent effort to play down the latest revelation over the claim that Iraq had weapons ready to fire within 45 minutes, and clear Tony Blair of blame.

The Defence Secretary embarked on a tour of TV and radio studios to claim that the 45-minute threat - and in particular the question of what kind of weapons it referred to - was "not a great matter of public controversy" in the run-up to war.

He and the Prime Minister faced an array of difficult questions after Mr Blair told MPs he himself had not known at the time that the 45- minute threat from Iraq referred only to battlefield weapons and not long range missiles.

Mr Hoon today said: "I don't believe there is a question of blame. As far as I'm concerned, this was not a matter of great public concern at the time.

"The question of what kind of weapons system c o u ld de l ive r weapons of mass destruction was not something of any great debate publicly in September 2002." The Defence Secretary revealed that at that time, when the government dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was published, he himself had not known what kind of weaponry the intelligence referred to.

It was only later, he said, that he had asked officials in his department that question. He had been told that it referred only to a suggestion that chemical or biological agents loaded into artillery shells or other short-range weaponry could be deployed within 45 minutes.

Mr Hoon pointed out that Mr Blair, in his keynote speech to the Commons in the debate immediately before the war, had not mentioned the 45-minute issue at all.

He also claimed that only one national newspaper, The Sun, had suggested that Saddam Hussein had missiles, as opposed to battlefield weapons, at instant readiness. …

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