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Foreign Office memo shows 2002 plan to sell Iraq invasion to UK media

Chris Ames and Richard Norton-Taylor

10bush-blair-006.jpg

Strategy for bringing the media onside was drawn up six months before UN gave approval for an attack on Saddam

December 10, 2010

The Foreign Office was planning for the possibility that Britain might attack Iraq without UN approval more than six months before the invasion, according to a hitherto classified document written shortly before a meeting between Tony Blair and George Bush at Camp David.

The document, drawn up by John Williams, press adviser to the then foreign secretary, Jack Straw, spells out ways to soften up the media, including "critics like the Guardian". Under the heading Not taking the UN route, Williams wrote: "Our argument should be narrow, and put with vigour Iraq is uniquely dangerous."

His memo, titled Iraq Media Strategy, is dated 4 September 2002, when the government was still trying to get UN support for military action and when Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, was advising that clear UN authority was needed. The document was also written as Whitehall and MI6 were being wound up by No 10 to provide much-needed ammunition for the government's Iraq weapons dossier.

Three days later, Williams wrote his own draft of the notorious dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The Chilcot inquiry said this week that it had asked him to provide written evidence about his role.

In his memo, he said drafts of the dossier at the time had no "killer fact" which "proves" that "Saddam must be taken on now, or this or that weapon will be used against us." When Blair was launching the dossier three weeks later, he told parliament that intelligence had "established beyond doubt" that Iraq had WMDs.

Williams wrote: "Our target is not the argumentative interviewer or opinionated columnist, but the kind of people to whom ministerial interviews are a background hum on the car or kitchen radio. We must think Radio 5. Although the big Radio 4 programmes have to be done, we must not let them set themselves up as judge and jury."

He added: "Listeners in traffic jams will understand that intelligence is partial, dangerous to acquire, and limited in what it is safe to put out in public. If the dossier is judged by these, rather than by Guardian standards, it will be worth doing."

He went on: "The humanitarian argument needs to be made more noisily and consistently. The record is horrific and it is not something that critics like the Guardian should be allowed to pass over without comment."

He said the media strategy needs "to fix one image of brutality in the public mind." He continued: "We might brief privy counsellors, third parties and some editors on further material which cannot be published, either shortly before or after the dossier launch."

The Williams paper was released after a freedom of information request. He said he was asked to produce an Iraq media strategy "to cover all circumstances" by the then permanent undersecretary top official at the Foreign Office, Sir Michael Jay. Jay, like most senior British diplomats as well as the top lawyers in the FCO, have since made clear they were opposed to an invasion of Iraq without clear UN approval.



:: Article nr. 72741 sent on 11-dec-2010 16:30 ECT

www.uruknet.info?p=72741

Link: www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/10/memo-2002-iraq-invasion-media



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