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The Scotsman March 22 2004

Diplomat reveals US regret over Iraq invasion

GETHIN CHAMBERLAIN DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT

Key points

Doubts over attack on Iraq revealed by US sources
Remarks come on first anniversary of conflict
Admission that conflict has placed strain on US realtions with othet countries

Key quote
"If we had waited six months, maybe some of this could have been done more peacefully, maybe I would not be in this situation." - Lianne Seymour, widow of Royal Marine Ian Seymour

Story in full THE United States regrets the political fall-out generated by the invasion of
Iraq and some members of the administration believe the war should have been delayed to give diplomacy another chance, a senior American diplomat has revealed.

Howard Perlow, minister for political affairs and the US’s number three at its embassy in London, said a year after the war, it was clear it had placed a strain on relations within NATO and with other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

In an interview with The Scotsman, Mr Perlow said the US had no doubt it had done the right thing in taking military action to unseat Saddam Hussein, but conceded it might have been better to have given diplomacy more time. "We could have taken the extra step that might have obviated some of the later political rancour when we couldn’t get that second resolution," he said.

He admitted there were reasons to question the decision to attack without waiting for a UN consensus. "You obviated it, you removed it, you removed the possibility and that has led to this year of great political confrontation," he said.

Asked whether the US had any regrets about the way it had prosecuted the war and whether, with hindsight, it would have gone about it differently, Mr Perlow said: "I think probably it is fair to say there were voices within the administration that would have perhaps delayed just a little bit longer in order to have tried to form a security council consensus on military action.

"That said, I think you would find in this administration very few regrets for what we have done. There may be some secondary issues, that is to say it put a tremendous amount of stress on NATO ... and it certainly created political stress within the P5 [permanent members] on the security council. Those things are not good developments, not happy developments - it’s not how you want to manage a major relationship."

Mr Perlow’s comments came on a weekend of worldwide anti-war demonstrations and as the widow of one of the first British serviceman to be killed in Iraq revealed she had written to
Tony Blair demanding information about her husband’s death and questioning the decision to invade without giving weapons inspectors more time.

Speaking exactly a year after Royal Marine Ian Seymour died when a US helicopter crashed in Kuwait, his wife Lianne said she needed to know the truth to explain what happened to their four-year-old son Beck.

"[The bereaved families] want to meet Mr Blair and Mr Hoon and for them to answer our questions. I believe they owe us answers as to why the war happened," she said.

"If we had waited six months, maybe some of this could have been done more peacefully, maybe I would not be in this situation. I want to know why Ian was sent there - that is why I have written to Tony Blair. The Iraq war is over, Saddam has been captured. What is it that Mr Blair is so afraid of that he cannot disclose now?"

Mr Perlow said that there was great sympathy in the US for the backlash in the UK against Mr Blair. He said although support for the war had fallen in the US since the end of the conflict, the failure to find
WMDs had not had the same impact on the Bush administration as it had on the British government.

"The issue goes back to the decision to go to war. The British decision was largely, almost exclusively, based on the question of weapons of mass destruction," he said. "That was one of several elements and, while important, it was not the primary reason that the United States justified the decision. It was Saddam’s refusal to comply with security council resolutions and to meet normal obligations to the international community.

"When that [the WMD issue] became questionable you then had a real problem: why did we do this? From the American perspective we would argue that it was the right thing to do irrespective in the end of whether we found nuclear weapons or not. This man was a menace to his own population and a danger to his neighbours, to say the least, and, if nothing else, he was an extremely likely suspect when sanctions were lifted to restart programmes of weapons of mass destruction."

The Spanish government’s decision to go to war against the wishes of 90 per cent of its population has been blamed for the electoral backlash which saw it voted out of office last week and replaced by a party committed to withdrawal from Iraq, but Mr Perlow said the US was not worried about a similar reaction in Britain. "If you look at the realistic alternative for the next government of the United Kingdom it would be the Conservatives, who are, relatively speaking, as close to us on security issues as any political party in Europe," he said.

There has been speculation that Britain’s relationship with the US had been damaged by the row over intelligence on Saddam’s weapons programmes, but Mr Perlow said America had not been as concerned about the issue as some people made out.

Instead, he said, there had been genuine concern for the anti-government sentiment which had manifested itself in a series of votes against key policy issues and in the willingness of its backbench MPs to challenge Mr Blair’s authority.

"What you don’t want to see, the painful part of this, is looking at a friend and ally who is being nibbled to pieces over top-up fees, foundation hospitals, over restructuring of the House of Lords; you don’t like seeing a good ally nibbled away," he said. "Rather than looking at gigantic historic transformations and events, you’ve got someone worrying about the percentage of money you are going to be paying for top-up fees."