The Ricketts letter

“We are still left with a problem of bringing public opinion to accept the imminence of a threat from Iraq.”

On 22 March 2002, Peter Ricketts, political director at the Foreign Office, sent a letter to Jack Straw. The letter provided advice in advance of a personal note that Straw was to send Tony Blair regarding Blair’s forthcoming visit to Bush’s ranch at Crawford, Texas.

What is the objective?

Ricketts’ opening comment probably provides the best summary of what the UK government hoped to achieve by backing the US policy of regime change: “By sharing Bush’s broad objective the Prime Minister can help shape how it is defined, and the approach to achieving it.”

The letter does not state what Bush’s broad objective was or what the UK government’s objective was but it does later state that “Military operations need clear and compelling military objectives.” Ricketts advised Straw that “For Iraq, “regime change: does not stack up. It sounds like a grudge between Bush and Saddam. Much better, as you have suggested, to make the objective ending the threat to the international community from Iraqi WMD before Saddam uses it or gives it to the terrorists.” The Inquiry will need to consider whether this indicates an intention to change the objective of UK policy or merely to ascribe a different objective to the policy of invading Iraq.

The letter does suggest that Ricketts believed that Iraq had some level of wmd capacity, albeit one that was “hobbled”. Ricketts told Straw that “even the best survey of Iraq’s WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years ont he nuclear, missile or CW/BW fronts: the programmes are extremely worrying but have not, as far as we know, been stepped up.”

The letter also contains some evidence that the Foreign Office still hoped to use UN weapons inspections as a means to avoid war, rather than solely a way to justify it. Ricketts suggested that it should be put to Bush that if “against all the odds” Saddam allowed inspectors to operate freely, “we can further hobble his WMD programmes”.

Making the case

Much of Ricketts’ letter stresses how difficult it would be to make a public case for invading Iraq and stresses the need to make this clear to the US administration. He told Straw: “we are still left with a problem of bringing public opinion to accept the imminence of a threat from Iraq. This is something the Prime Minister and President need to have a frank discussion about.”

The letter provides some evidence that the UK and US were already collaborating on the use of intelligence material to make a case for war. Ricketts referred to the decision a day earlier to postpone publication of the dossier, commenting “there is more work to do to ensure that the figures are accurate and consistent with those of the US.”

Back to The Downing Street documents