NEW YORK, March 27: President George Bush made clear to British Prime Minister Tony Blair that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, The New York Times said on Monday.

Citing a confidential British memorandum, the newspaper said Mr Bush was certain that war was inevitable and made his view known during a private two-hour meeting with Mr Blair in the Oval Office on January 31, 2003.

Information about the meeting was contained in the memo written by Blair’s top foreign policy adviser.

“Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning,” the paper quotes David Manning, Mr Blair’s chief foreign policy adviser at the time, as noting in the memo.

“The start date for the military campaign was now pencilled in for March 10,” Mr Manning wrote, paraphrasing Mr Bush. “This was when the bombing would begin,” the paper said.

The timetable came at an important diplomatic moment, the paper said.

Five days after the Bush-Blair meeting, then US Secretary of State Colin Powell was due to appear before the UN to present evidence that Iraq posed a threat to world security by hiding unconventional weapons.

Stamped ‘extremely sensitive’, the five-page memorandum had not been made public, according to the report.

Several highlights were first published in January in the book Lawless World, which was written by British lawyer and professor Philippe Sands.

Since then, The New York Times has reviewed the five-page memo in its entirety.

While the president’s sentiments about invading Iraq were known at the time, the previously unreported material offers an unfiltered view of two leaders on the brink of war, yet supremely confident, the NYT said.

The British government, meanwhile, has blocked the release of secret documents recording its discussions with Australia about the war and the WMD claims.

Mr Blair’s cabinet office refused a freedom of information request from The Age newspaper seeking documents detailing discussions his government had with Australian officials about Iraq’s suspected WMD programme in 2002-03.

Confirming that it held documents recording discussions between Britain and Australia about WMD, the cabinet office said disclosing them was not in the public interest because it could compromise Britain’s international relations.

The memo indicates the two leaders envisioned a quick victory and a transition to a new Iraqi government that would be complicated, but manageable.

Mr Bush predicted that it was “unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups”.

Mr Blair agreed with that assessment.

The memo also shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq.

Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Mr Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation, including a proposal to paint a United States surveillance plane in the colours of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire, or assassinating Saddam.

The newspaper said that two senior British officials confirmed the authenticity of the memo, but declined to talk further about it, citing Britain’s Official Secrets Act, which made it illegal to divulge classified information.

But one of them said, “In all of this discussion during the run-up to the Iraq war, it is obvious that viewing a snapshot at a certain point in time gives only a partial view of the decision-making process.”

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