Wolfowitz won't discuss critical British memos
By Jon Sawyer
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
(KRT) - WASHINGTON - World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, a prime architect of the Iraq war during his service as Deputy Defense Secretary, said Tuesday that he hasn't read any of the recently disclosed British government memos that call into question his role and that of other senior administration officials in the run-up to war during 2002.
At a breakfast meeting with reporters, Wolfowitz said he hasn't read the memos because he doesn't want to be distracted by history from his new job as head of the world's leading development bank. He returned this weekend from a tour of four African nations.
"There's a lot I could say about what you're asking about, if I were willing to get distracted from the main subject," Wolfowitz said. "But I really think there's a price paid with the people I've just spent time with, people who are struggling with very real problems, to keep going back in history.
"There will be a time and place to talk about history," he added, "but I really don't believe it's now."
The so-called "Downing Street memos," first published by the Times of London, reflect high-level British views that President George W. Bush and his top aides decided on war much earlier than they have acknowledged. They include a statement by Sir Richard Dearlove, head of Britain's spy service, reporting on a visit to Washington in July 2002, eight months before the war began.
"Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD (weapons of mass destruction). But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," Dearlove told Blair and other top British officials.
The authenticity of the British documents has not been challenged but Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have both denied any pre-determination to go to war. They insist that the war decision came only after diplomatic alternatives had been exhausted.
Peter Hart, a media analyst with Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, a liberal group that has sought more coverage of the British memos in the American press, said Wolfowitz's new job is no reason not to address the issues raised by the memos.
"The fact that Wolfowitz will not discuss these issues underscores the importance of these memos and what they mean," Hart said.
Wolfowitz is the focus of one of the newly disclosed memos, a report by then British Ambassador Christopher Meyer on a March 2002 lunch with Wolfowitz quotes Wolfowitz as questioning the administration's focus on Saddam's alleged possession of WMD - later shown to be untrue - as the principal justification for war.
"He took a slightly different position from others in the administration," Meyer reported of Wolfowitz. "The WMD danger was of course crucial to the public case against Saddam, particularly the potential link to terrorism. But Wolfowitz thought it indispensable to spell out in detail Saddam's barbarism."
The minutes of the July 2002 meeting of the British war cabinet report Foreign Secretary Jack Straw saying that a U.N. ultimatum demanding that Saddam permit the return of U.N. inspectors could be useful because Saddam's refusal would "help with the legal justification for the use of force."
Blair agreed, the minutes say, "that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the U.N. inspectors."
The Meyer memo relating his lunch with Wolfowitz, in March 2002, suggests a focus even then on crafting a U.N. weapons-inspection resolution aimed at tempting Saddam into an open display of defiance that would open the way to war.
Meyer wrote that he had told Wolfowitz that "the U.S. could go it alone if it wanted to. But if it wanted to act with partners, there had to be a strategy for building support for military action against Saddam. I then went through the need to wrong-foot Saddam on the inspectors."
At the meeting with reporters Tuesday, Wolfowitz professed no recollection of discussing U.N. tactics with Meyer. "I have never used the word `wrong-foot' in my life," he said.
Wolfowitz said that he was determined to keep his own focus on development issues.
"I can tell you that no one I met in Africa, no African at least, wanted to talk about Iraq," he said. "They wanted to talk about what the world can do to improve Africa. I think they deserve that attention and that's what my attention is focused on."
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