President Bush made clear at a dinner with Prime Minister Tony Blair nine days after the Sept. 11 attacks that he wanted to confront Iraq, the former British ambassador to the United States reportedly told a magazine.
The president raised Iraq at a White House meeting on Sept. 20, 2001, Christopher Meyer, the former envoy, told Vanity Fair. The magazine, published in New York, released an advance copy of its story to The Associated Press on Sunday.
“Rumors were already flying that Bush would use 9/11 as a pretext to attack Iraq,” Meyer, who attended the dinner, reportedly said. “On the one hand, Blair came with a very strong message — don’t get distracted; the priorities were al-Qaida, Afghanistan, the Taliban.”
'Come back to Iraq'
“Bush said, ’I agree with you, Tony. We must deal with this first. But when we have dealt with Afghanistan, we must come back to Iraq,”’ Meyer said, according to Vanity Fair.
Meyer’s statements appear to echo claims by Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism chief who said Bush was preoccupied with Iraq before and after the terror attacks at the expense of fighting al-Qaida.
Clarke, whose book “Against All Enemies” and public testimony have ignited a political storm in Washington, said Bush pressed him the day after the attacks to establish a link to Iraq.
The White House has dismissed Clarke’s allegations, saying Iraq was considered one of many possible terror threats and in planning retaliation for Sept. 11, a map of Afghanistan, not Iraq was put on a table at Camp David.
A spokesman in Blair’s office declined to specify whether the two leaders discussed Iraq at the Sept. 20 meeting or give any details of the dinner.
No decision then
“The focus of discussions post 9/11 was on the need to take action against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, but Iraq has been a foreign policy priority for many years and would have been discussed by the two leaders at most meetings,” an official in Blair’s office told AP on condition of anonymity.
He said Blair did not decide to go to war then.
The Vanity Fair article, quoting an unidentified White House official, alleged that Bush and Blair discussed clear plans to topple Saddam Hussein in the summer of 2002 and that Blair misled his Cabinet by insisting for months that he had not made a decision to fight.
Meyer was in Paris Sunday and did not immediately return a request for comment made by the AP through Stephen Abell, spokesman for the Press Complaints Commission, the newspaper self-regulating body that the former ambassador now heads.