30/05/2003

Blair rejects weapons dossier doctoring claim

Tony Blair has rejected suggestions that a Government dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was rewritten to make it “sexier”, branding the claims “completely absurd”.

The claims, which were made to the BBC on Thursday by a senior British intelligence official, emerged as Mr Blair became the first Western leader to visit Iraq after the end of the war.

At a press conference held this morning, the UK prime minister - currently in Poland where he is delivering a speech on the EU - said that Saddam Hussein’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programmes were not “some invention by the British security services" but had been well documented by the United Nations.

Mr Blair said that he had “no doubt” about the reliability of the evidence regarding Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and stated: “The idea that we authorized or made our intelligence agencies invent some piece of evidence is completely absurd”.

The dossier, which was published last September, claimed that Saddam Hussein had the capacity to activate his biological and chemical weapons in just 45 minutes.

However, the intelligence official claimed that the dossier had been changed a week before it was published, on the orders of Downing Street and said that the statement regarding the time in which the weapons would be ready for use had not been included in the original draft, because it “wasn’t reliable”.

“Most things in the dossier were double source,” the official told the BBC. “But that was single source and we believe that the source was wrong.”

However, the official said that he was convinced that Iraq had a programme to manufacture weapons of mass destruction and said that it was around 30% likely that they had a biological programme. He also said that some of the evidence had been “downplayed” by chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix and added that captured Iraqi scientists had not yet provided much information.

Downing Street has stated that “not one word of the dossier was not entirely the work of the intelligence agencies”.

The Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee is to conduct an inquiry into the Government’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Labour MP, Tam Dydell, who was opposed to the war in Iraq, has called for a Commons statement on the claims.

(KMcA)

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