NEW YORK, Oct 14: President Bush cited Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as posing ‘particular problems’ in a conversation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair two months before the invasion of Iraq, the New York Times said on Friday citing notes taken by one of Mr Blair’s advisers as reported in a new book.
Mr Bush reportedly told Mr Blair he wanted to go beyond Iraq in dealing with the spread of illicit weapons, naming Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as posing ‘particular problems’, the newspaper said.
Mr Bush’s comment, in a private telephone conversation on Jan 30, 2003, could be significant because it appeared to add Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to a list that previously had included public mentions of Iraq, Iran and North Korea only. The president had termed the three countries a part of an ‘axis of evil’.
The comment was reported in an American edition of ‘Lawless World’, a book by Philippe Sands, a professor at University College, London, and a practising lawyer.
An earlier edition of the book, published in Britain in February, included details from other pre-war British government documents, but it did not include the detail from the Jan 30 conversation.
The British government has not questioned the authenticity of the documents described in the book.
The contents of a Jan 30 document describing the conversation between Mr Bush and Mr Blair have been reviewed by The New York Times. It shows that the notes were taken by Matthew Rycroft, then the private secretary to Mr Blair, and addressed to Simon McDonald, then the principal private secretary to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
The contents show that the document was marked secret and personal and said it ‘must only be shown to those with a real need to know’.
The newspaper said the White House declined to comment, saying that any telephone conversation between Mr Bush and Mr Blair at that time would have been private and personal.
A spokesman for the British embassy in Washington also declined to comment.
The Times said the notes taken by Mr Rycroft do not provide any indication of what Mr Bush meant by including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan on the list. The reference is confined to one sentence in a two-page document, which says that Mr Bush ‘wanted to go beyond Iraq in dealing with WMD proliferation, mentioning in particular Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan’.
The document is revealing in other ways not described in the book. It records a conversation between the leaders a day before they met in Washington, and shows that they discussed whether to seek a second United Nations resolution imposing an ultimatum on Iraq before beginning any military action, the newspaper reported.
Mr Bush was reported to have agreed with Mr Blair that ‘it made sense to try for a second resolution, which he would love to have’. But Mr Bush was also said to be ‘worried about Saddam playing tricks’ and the possibility that Hans Blix, the top United Nations weapons inspector, would report ‘that Saddam was beginning to cooperate’.