Missing papers frustrate Chilcot panel
Updated on 29 January 2010
Chilcot inquiry members are clearly frustrated at having to work around evidence in classified documents to which they have access but cannot use directly. Malcolm Boughen reports.
In his evidence this morning, Tony Blair referred to two documents which, until yesterday, had been officially classified - "Iraq: New Policy Framework" from 7 March 2001 and "Iraq: Options Paper" from 8 March 2002.
Asking Mr Blair about the latter, Sir Roderic Lyne observed tartly: "The March options paper is in the public domain. You can get it on the internet. I am not certain offhand whether or not it has been declassified by the government... which was elected under your leadership."
Mr Blair was equally uncertain whether it HAD been declassified for open discussion and switched back to the "New Policy Framework" document from the previous year, which, he said, HAD been declassified yesterday.
The inquiry chairman, Sir John Chilcot, intervened later to say the two documents had both been declassified and would be put up on the website - though at the time of writing they have still not appeared there either.
From the exchanges, it is clear that both documents refer to the introduction of so-called "smart sanctions", designed to squeeze the Saddam regime with effective border controls to prevent him getting in materials for developing weapons of mass destruction, an effective arms embargo and the tough implementation of the no-fly zone.
But - as Mr Blair tells it - there had been huge changes between the publication of the two documents - not least the attacks of 11 September 2001, but also the "watering down" of those sanctions to get the Russians on-board for a United Nations resolution and "difficulties" in enforcing the no-fly zone.
Helpfully, Mr Blair referred the inquiry to a book by Ken Pollack - a former CIA intelligence analyst who had also served on the National Security Council and was an advocate of the invasion of Iraq. Mr Pollack, said Mr Blair, had set out seven pre-conditions for smart sanctions to work - and explained why none of them would have happened.
And it is not just on the issue of sanctions that the Chilcot inquiry is finding itself restricted. There is, too, the question of the Blair-Bush letters. These have been referred to by a couple of witnesses and seem to date from July 2002. They raise the question of how far Mr Blair had gone in offering Britain's backing to the president if it came to the issue of regime change.
The inquiry members have been allowed to see these letters, but the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, has refused their request to publish them. There are fears, it seems, that release of the details could harm both UK-US relations and those with other countries. The Guardian reported one Blair ally this morning as saying: "They are full of scurrilous remarks about other people, including (Jacques) Chirac (the former French President)."
That same source claims that publication would actually help Blair's case by showing him "fighting his corner" for maximum efforts to be made at the diplomatic level to bring about Saddam's disarmament before moving to a military solution.
But it seems - on current form - that we may never know for certain.