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The White House Meeting That Took Us to War

By Oliver King, Guardian (UK)

A Guardian exclusive tonight reveals that President Bush suggested to Tony Blair in January 2003 the idea of painting UN colours on American U2 spy planes in the hope that Saddam would shoot one down.

According to a leaked memo of the White House meeting between the two leaders, Mr Bush told the prime minister: "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach [of UN resolutions]".

Tony Blair told President Bush he was "solidly" behind American plans to invade Iraq before he sought advice about its legality and despite the absence of a second UN resolution.

This explosive new account of events comes in a revised edition of Lawless World by the QC and professor of international law at University College, London, Philippe Sands .

Despite what Downing Street was telling us at the time, tonight's story shows that Mr Blair backed President Bush when told the US was intent on war - UN resolution or not - and evidence or not that Iraq was hiding its weapons programmes.

What the leak does show is that Mr Blair told President Bush that a second UN resolution would be an "insurance policy", providing "international cover, including with the Arabs" if anything went wrong with the military campaign, or if Saddam increased the stakes by burning oil wells, killed children, or fomented internal divisions within Iraq.

Mr Sands last year exposed the doubts shared by Foreign Office lawyers about the legality of the invasion in disclosures that eventually forced the prime minister to publish the full advice given to him by the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith.

What tonight's story also does is reignite the controversy over the war's legality. Lord Goldsmith, as the Guardian exclusively revealed in April was still warning Tony Blair in March 2003 that an international court could rule that conflict was illegal without specific authorisation by the United Nations.

While those fears worried the Foreign Office's lawyer Elizabeth Wilmshurst so much she resigned from the government, they were obviously just an obstacle to steer around for the PM.

The other shocking revelation is Bush's comment to Blair that he "thought it unlikely that there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups" in Iraq are the war.

This post was last changed at 07:12 PM, February 2 2006, at a time when the top headline on Guardian Unlimited was Bush 'told PM we're going to war', and the top headline from the BBC was BNP duo to face race hate retrial, and there were posts elsewhere tagged with these same keywords:

The post was written by Oliver King. You can email the author at

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