Cook rounds on Clare Short over UN bugging claims

Ex-foreign secretary Robin Cook has rounded on his former Cabinet colleague Clare Short over her claims that Kofi Annan's telephone was bugged in the build up to the crucial cote on the Iraq war last year.

Writing in today's Independent, Mr Cook dismisses her allegations, saying that he would be "surprised" if there was any truth to them. He also called on Clare Short to "put up or shut up" – produce evidence or abandon her anti-Blair agenda.

Clare Short, who quit government last year over her opposition to the war in Iraq, said that she had seen transcripts of Kofi Annan's conversations. She said that she was revealing this information in the hope that the bugging would stop, as Britain was not affording Mr Annan's office the respect it deserved.

The former International Development Secretary denied that she had put any British agents at risk, nor acted contrary to Britain's national interests. However, it has been reported that the Home Secretary and the Attorney General will consider whether her interviews represented a breach of the Official Secrets Act.

Labour backbenchers and former Cabinet colleagues – including Jack Cunningham, Helen Liddell and Ben Bradshaw – have today been highly critical of Ms Short's stance. The broad view being that her antipathy toward Tony Blair's premiership had clouded her judgment.

Yesterday, a UN spokesperson said that if Ms Short's allegations were true, all eavesdropping against UN staff and delegates should stop.

Fred Eckhard said that the UN General Secretary's office would be "disappointed" if there was any truth to the allegations.

"Such activities would undermine the integrity and confidential nature of diplomatic exchanges," he added.

Mr Eckhard also pointed out that under the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN, the 1947 "Headquarters Agreement" between the UN and the United States, and the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations – this form of intelligence-gathering is illegal under international law.

He added that the UN would step up "routine technical measures" aimed at guarding against such invasions of privacy. Mr Eckhard noted that the UN could take steps - such as using secure phone and faxes lines - to secure the confidentiality of communications.

At his monthly press conference to reporters yesterday, Prime Minister Tony Blair said that he never commented on the work of the intelligence services, but described Ms Short's comments as "totally irresponsible".


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