“I said that you would not budge in your support for regime change…”
The memorandum from David Manning, Tony Blair’s chief foreign policy adviser, is addressed to Blair and dated 14 March 2002. It both records Manning’s talks on Iraq with the Bush administration during the previous two days and provides Blair with advice in the run-up to his visit to Bush’s Texas ranch the following month. It is highly significant in that it is the first published document to show that Blair had told the administration that the UK supported its policy of regime change in Iraq.
Manning was head of the Cabinet Office Defence and Overseas Secretariat, which had produced the Iraq options paper a week earlier. The memo is marked “Strictly Personal” but was copied to Jonathan Powell. It reveals that Christopher Meyer, UK ambassador to Washington, was present during one of the meetings.
Manning’s talks with Rice
Manning recorded that he had had dinner with Condoleezza Rice, then US national security adviser, on 12 March and had a “frank, one-on-one” discussion on Iraq. He told Blair:
“I said that you would not budge in your support for regime change but you had to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was very different than anything in the States. And you would not budge either in your insistence that, if we pursued regime change, it must be very carefully done and produce the right result. Failure was not an option.”
Although this is the earliest document to record that UK officials told the US that Blair backed regime change, it suggests that Blair was restating this position and had already sought to influence the implementation of the policy.
Manning also told Blair: “I told Condi that we realised that the Administration could go it alone if it chose. But if it wanted company, it would have to take account of the concerns of its potential coalition partners.”
Manning’s advice to Blair
Manning advised Blair that the fact that Bush wanted to hear his views on Iraq before taking decisions and wanted his support gave Blair “real influence”. He told Blair that, as well as influencing the way that the plan for regime change would be implemented, “The talks at the ranch will also give you the chance to push Bush on the Middle East. The Iraq factor means that there may never be a better opportunity to get this Administration to give sustained attention to reviving the [Middle East Peace Plan].”
Questions arising from the memo
Had Blair approved Manning’s briefing of Rice and support for regime change?
Which ministers saw the memo?