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The Blame Game Between Bush and the Brit

by Richard Wolffe, Mark Hosenball and Tamara Lipper, Newsweek, 17 March 2003


They have been the closest of allies. But under the intense pressure of a diplomatic crisis at the United Nations and an imminent war in Iraq, the friendship between the United States and Britain is beginning to fray. The most recent strain emerged when U.N. nuclear inspectors concluded last week that U.S. and British claims about Iraq's secret nuclear program were based on forged documents. The fake letters supposedly laid out how Iraqi agents had tried to purchase uranium from officials in Niger, central Africa.

Who was to blame for undermining the case against Saddam? One Bush administration official told Newsweek that the uranium story was promoted by the British. "U.S. intelligence has always been skeptical," said one official, saying there was "no corroboration" for the British report. However, the British government never named Niger as the potential supplier for Iraq's nuclear program. The Brits carefully said in September that Iraq had sought "significant quantities of uranium from Africa." London claimed several sources linking Iraq to a number of African states, but never named Niger. It was the Bush administration that named Niger in mid-December, when it listed dozens of omissions in Iraq's weapons declaration to the United Nations.

Meanwhile, British officials have questioned the suggestion by Secretary of State Colin Powell that there are links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. And London has complained that the Bush administration has limited diplomatic maneuvering room with its harsh rhetoric and restrictive U.N. deadlines. Privately, British officials agree with their French counterparts that there has been a "rush to war" led by the United States-a rush dictated by the political cycle in Washington and military concerns about the weather, rather than the need to build a broad coalition against Iraq.

Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair also differ on the whole U.N. process. One senior Bush administration official admitted last week that the latest resolution was designed only to help the British and Spanish leaders at home, where they face huge opposition to war. Another U.S. official said Bush didn't even care about the language of the resolution. But for Blair, the fate of the latest vote will influence whether he wins or loses a parliamentary vote on war-and that, in turn, could even determine whether he keeps his job in Downing Street.

That pressure helps explain the striking difference between the passionate British pitch at the United Nations last week, and the weary speech from Powell. Bush last week said it was time for all members of the Security Council to show their cards. The danger for Blair is that for him, the vote will soon look like a busted flush.

Copyright © 2003 Newsweek
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.

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