Transcripts raise alarm across NatoDan Plesch and Richard Norton-Taylor
Monday June 2, 2003
Transcripts of a private conversation between Jack Straw and Colin Powell expressing serious doubts about the reliability of intelligence on Iraq's banned weapons programme are being circulated in western government circles where there is a growing feeling that officials were deceived into supporting the Iraq war.
A document known as the "Waldorf transcripts" - after the New York hotel where the US secretary of state was staying before making a crucial speech to the UN security council earlier this year - is described by an official of one Nato country as "extremely useful".
The description is used in a paper seen by the Guardian as part of an effort among Nato allies to "rein in some of the less acceptable policies of the Bush administration".
Mr Straw yesterday denied he had had a private meeting with Mr Powell on February 4, the eve of the security council meeting where Mr Powell gave a dramatic presentation of intelligence material purporting to reveal hard evidence that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons.
The foreign secretary said he did not arrive in New York until the day of the crucial security council meeting.
Diplomatic sources remain adamant, as the Guardian reported on Saturday, that Mr Straw did have a private conversation with Mr Powell in which both men expressed their concerns about the quality of the intelligence they had been given and how it was being used to bolster their governments' case for war against Iraq.
The Guardian reported how a meeting between the two men took place at the Waldorf Astoria hotel shortly before the key security council meeting. On Saturday, the Foreign Office insisted "no such meeting" took place.
Yesterday the foreign secretary was asked on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost Programme if there was "any truth to this: did you in January or February have any conversation with the secretary of state where you shared your doubts about the strength or probability of the evidence for the claims you were both making about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction? Did you have any such conversation?"
Mr Straw replied: "Let me deal with that. No I didn't about the quality of the evidence. What is the case is that I've always been very anxious to test the evidence and so, I know, was [Colin] Powell and President Bush and our prime minister, Tony Blair."
The "Waldorf transcripts" document being distributed among Nato capitals raises new questions about Mr Straw's denials. It is being circulated amid a flurry of leaks in Washington about Mr Powell's concerns about how intelligence was being used to try to persuade reluctant Nato allies - notably France and Germany - to sanction an attack on Iraq.
Tony Blair has promised to publish a new dossier on Iraq's past weapons of mass destruction programme. But it is a prospect the intelligence services, already caught up in the political row over claims that Downing Street doctored their earlier evidence, do not relish.
British intelligence agencies cannot substantiate claims that Saddam Hussein possessed chemical and biological weapons when US and UK forces invaded Iraq, senior Whitehall officials admitted yesterday.
Any dossier published now would be "half-baked and inaccurate", a well-placed source told the Guardian.
"There was a consensus the Iraqis were up to something. We know they had a programme of deception. We can't substantiate it now."
Intelligence sources said it would take "weeks, if not two or three months" to come up with what they called a "credible" assessment.
British and American intelligence sources say they were expecting Iraqi forces to use chemical or biological weapons against UK and US troops - a tactic which, however horrendous, would, they say, at least have proved they had such weapons.