Live Blog – 26 November 2009

Thursday 26 November 2009

(There was one evidence session today, scheduled for 09:00 – 12:00.)

Topic: The Transatlantic Relationship

Sir Christopher Meyer, British Ambassador to the United States, 1997–2003

This morning’s hearing, as it happened

This morning’s hearing, starting at 9.00 features Sir Christopher Meyer, UK ambassador to Washington until 2003. Meyer has already admitted that he and Sir David Manning told the Bush administration in early 2002 that Tony Blair backed regime change.

12.34 Sir John Chilcot states that the missing docs referred to will be obtained by the Inquiry, and wraps up. Sir Jeremy Greenstock tomorrow.

12.33 Meyer asked for any last comments not yet made – simply recounts re unilateralism and multilateralism that this administration was not an aberration in this regard.

12.32 Cheney maybe most powerful Vice-President ever. He was present at Camp David in Sept ’02.

12.29 The argument for retaining Ba’athist expertise in Iraqi administration was lost.

12.28 Meyer says Maggie would have demanded more the from US, esp a clearer plan for the aftermath.

12.26 Meyer went to Rove to see how far the invasion could be put back. Late 2003 was the answer. Meyer notes forthcoming ’04 US elections were an issue.

12.22 Instead of Saddam trying to prove his innocence we found we were trying to prove his guilt. Worry was also about humanitarian disaster. Initial fear about Saddam’s response with WMD, and losing Iraqi popular support, which happened.

12.20 Blair sought delay in early ’03 because of the need for the disputed second resolution. Delay was only till March 20th when US military was ready to go.

12.17 Res 1441 had ambiguity, and sowed the seed of its own destruction because it was not clear about the precise trigger. With hindsight, we should have said let’s exhaust the UN process and then consider military action. The military and political strategies were the wrong way around.

12.12 The US didn’t have its house in order. there was a fragmented inter-agency approach. Meyer’s contacts said: “all in hand”.

12.06 Sir Roderick – aftermath? Post-war Iraq was a blind spot in Washington? Theme from reporting was telling London. There was no agreement about this. At dinner with Cheney, Meyer learned that Cheney believed that it would all be OK after the invasion.

12.03 Baroness Prashar – was it inevitable we took part? We were taken for granted as far as taking part was concerned. We underestimated the leverage at our disposal.

12.01 Meyer can’t see Tony Blair ever putting distance between himself and the White House.

11.58 If we didn’t go down UN route the first instance of regime change would take place in London!

11.55 Vital for UK interests to take part? Yes, if we had opposed US it would have damaged them.

11.52 What benefits did we gain from the part we took? We failed to persuade the US to gain interests re trade.

11.49 Bush told Blair it would be politically difficult. Would UK interests be damaged if we sat it out? Difficult to say.

11.46Question on wider coalition. Meyer says given relationship we could achieve more by being tougher. If we made it a condition that Middle East issues were included we might get better traction.

11.40 Discussion moves to Middle East process. Lyne asks about conditions and UN processes. Definition about exhausting processes is far from clear. British overcame obstacles to get 1441. Battle in US Administration.

(Andrew Mason taking over blog)


11.22 Meyer is now saying that there is no way the Foreign Office did not know the way the wind was blowing, re regime change, in late 2001. It should be on the record, but again the despatch is missing!

11.18 Here is what Sparrow says about the bit I missed

11.13 Meyer recalls that Powell went to the UN in early 2003 and gave a presentation about Saddam not cooperating with the inspectors. But then Hans Blix, the head of the weapons inspectors, issued a second report which was more positive than his original one.

11.09 Lyne asks if the window the weapons inspectors were given to operate in was “so small it was not a window at at all”.

Meyer says he discussed this in a memo to London. He says he has not been able to find it. It’s about the fourth time he has said that the inquiry has not been able to produce a document that he knows existed. So much for Chilcot being able to see everything!

Meyer says he warned London that different countries had difference expectations.

He says that when Saddam responded to the demands of the weapons inspectors with a lengthy denial, the Americans decided “he’s bullshitting us”. It was seen as a summons to war. Meyer says he thought this was obvious from the tone of Bush’s State of the Union address in 2003.

11.14 Technical problem lost a whole stream in which Meyer admitted that the military timetable never gave the UN inspections time to work

10.58 Lyne asks about lunch with Wolfowitz and the clever plan. Bush was persuaded to go down the UN route. Was that just an exercise to wrongfoot Saddam? It was more than that. I had to put it in cynical terms for Wolfowitz. Had I been talking to someone else, I would have said, this war will be incredibly difficult… It will work better this way.

10.57 Lyne asks when it became apparent that the US could not be diverted from regime change. Meyer fasts forward to December 2002, where Rice said that the best option would be if coercive diplomacy forced Saddam out.

10.53 Lyne asks are you effectively saying that the UK govt policy was changed in Washington rather than London? Meyer says not as poodlish as that. Blair a true believer in the wickedness of SH. Goes back to Blair speech in 1998.

10.51 Attitude of UK government was that regime change was going to happen. No point in saying we can’t do it. Attempt to square circle was to contextualise it was to put it in the framework of UN action. As I said in my letter, I didn’t just say let’s go get the bastard, let’s to it with skill. I think Meyer said here that the point was to override the Foreign Office. This is stunning stuff. Not that we didn’t know it already.

10.49 Lyne asks about Meyer’s book saying Blair had agreed to regime change but had to be discreet about saying it in public

10.48 Acknowledges his account of meeting with Wolfowitz.

10.42 Lyne is asking what the UK policy was in early 2002 when Bush wanted regime change. Meyer says UK policy was extreme concern that regime change by invasion was illegal. Talking about meeting between John Sawers and Rice etc January 2001. Sawers said regime change not practical. Rice said don’t take it off the table. Discussion of aid to opposition.

Lyne takes him back to early 2002! Knowledge that military action was under active discussion got people in the Foreign Office. By the time we get to Crawford there had been a sea change in UK policy to which the government had to adapt. Containment dead.

Lyne asks at what point did your instructions change. Meyer got a chunky set of instructions from Manning in March 2002. Manning came over with a set of instructions to prepare the way for the PM’s visit. One of the main things he was seeking to do was to say to the US, if you want regime change, you can do it by yourselves, but if you want partners, do it with an alliance, preferably taking the UN route.

There we have it. The UN route was the route to Regime change.

10.40 Lyne has taken Meyer back to the question of when regime change by invasion became the policy of the US administration. He says very soon after 9/11 and after the anthrax scare, which the administration suspected Iraq of. By the end of the year the right wingers were getting much more traction. Bush re-invigorated by war on terrorism and found purpose.

10.38 They’ve gone back to the US Iraq review of Summer 2001.

10.36 I’m absolutely staggered that we can get to Crawford and the question about the convergence of UK/US Iraq policy without acknowledging that Meyer told the US in March that Blair backed regime change. Absolutely staggered.

10.34 Blair’s speech after Crawford was good but led inadvertently to a conflation of SH and 9/11. Sophisticated argument re pre-emption.

10.33 Meyer says he does not know what the outcome of Crawford was, although the Cabinet Office says it does.

10.30 Gilbert asks to what extent did US/UK policy merge at Crawford April 2002. UK wanted to go down UN route. Stressing that US policy was embryonic. Regime change did not necessarily mean invasion. Advised Blair 1) If regime change, how to do it 2) if war, how to make case 3) get them to focus on the aftermath. Have we skipped past March 2002 and Meyer’s missive? How can Gilbert ask this question without mention of it?

10.28 Would say to ministers State Department on board with UK policy on Iraq (not to invade) but other people took different view

10.25 Gilbert asks about wider US/UK relations. Meyer says embassy is sending an enormous amount of info for ministers on “faultline” on ME between Powell and Cheney/Rumsfeld. Rice was more and more in Powell’s camp.

10.22 Now talking about Blair’s status in the US, post 9/11. Meyer says it was “a heady and exhilarating experience” to be US ambassador. He’s very theatrical.

10.20 Chilcot has asked at what point after 9/11 the policy on Iraq changed. In the course of the day, talking to Rice there was discussion of whether there could be a possible connection with SH. The following weekend there was a big ding dong at Camp David. Wolfowitz argued very strongly for retaliation that would include Iraq. Not clear if Rumsfeld supported. Decided to concentrate on Al Quaeda and Afghanistan and leave Iraq for now. Blair told this and agreed. He wanted to concentrate on AQ, Afghanistan.

10.17 Chilcot has asked about the no fly zones. US was concerned about them but were not thinking of invading if a plane was shot down although they would “kick the shit out of them for doing it”. The UK was concerned about the proportionality of such an event.

10.16 I’m back on the webfeed, BTW.

10.13 Gilbert asks if there were members of the administration plugging regime change before Sept 11. No, he thought the whole administration was losing a sense of direction.

10.08 More discussion of Russia than Iraq etc at Camp David. Came up at the beginning, almost to be dismissed. Quick discussion of ME as Colin Powell had to leave.

10.04 Gilbert asks about Camp David Feb 2001. Meyer says that although the Iraq Inquiry Unit has done a great job of assembling the archive he has not been able to find the telegrams he sent Blair beforehand. Hang on, there’s an archive? Where is it. Why have witnesses got it but not the public?

10.03 Gilbert points out that this didn’t mean regime change by invasion. Did people in the administration want this? Yes, as far back as 1997-8 Wolfowitz was advocating it.

10.01 Meyer “winds back” to Iraq Liberation Act, which he points out, made regime change in Iraq official US policy. Clinton didn’t do much about it because he was “a bit knocked about after the Lewinsky impeachment business”.

9.58 Not interested in “belligerent” ways of addressing SH. Right wing Republicans support INC but State Dept against them. In the meantime, State supports narrowing and deepening sanctions, as does UK. Says this failed.

9.56 It’s on BBC news 24. Meyer is talking about the early days of the Bush administration. Not very interested in Iraq or the middle east.

9.50 They’re off. Is there any sound?

9.46 I’m just having some tea and toast btw. Another head has appeared in the audience…

9.40 Do we give the Inquiry credit for not starting without the feed?

9.36 Who thinks Meyer will be candid today? My impression of yesterday’s witnesses was that they spent the whole day trying to justify their actions, evade searching questions and… spin.

9.31 Still waiting for something to happen. The same picture of an empty set, with one head occasionally moving slightly in the foreground. It looks like he’s got his paper out.

9.29 Sparrow, via the C4 blogger says things will start at 9.30… He points out that you can’t blog from the inquiry room anyway. We haven’t missed anything so far but they may well start at 9.30, even without coverage.

9.24 Moving (silent) pictures have appeared! If it’s live, there is nothing happening. The chairs are empty.

9.21 It’s a shambles! With internet coverage depending on the feed – it’s broken down.

9.13 The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow is blogging. At 9.03 he was waiting for the hearing to start. At 9.12 he says “It should have started by now, but I’m monitoring the hearing via the web feed in the office and nothing is coming through. Channel 4’s Iraq inquiry blogger says there’s a problem with the sound feed.”

Not just me then. Still, foolish to rely on the technology.

9.07 I’m hoping to watch this via the Inquiry’s webfeed, which features on the Digest. At the moment it looks as if their feed has crashed.

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