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White House challenges UK Iraq memo


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Claims in a recently uncovered British memo that intelligence was "being fixed" to support the Iraq war as early as mid-2002 are "flat out wrong," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Monday.

McClellan insisted the process leading up to the decision to go to war was "very public" -- and that the decision to invade in March 2003 was taken only after Iraq refused to comply with its "international obligations."

"The president of the United States, in a very public way, reached out to people across the world, went to the United Nations and tried to resolve this in a diplomatic manner," McClellan said.

"Saddam Hussein was the one, in the end, who chose continued defiance. And only then was the decision made, as a last resort, to go into Iraq."

However, McClellan also said he had not seen the "specific memo," only reports of what it contained.

Earlier this month, the Times of London published the minutes of a meeting of top British officials in mid-2002, including Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's staunchest ally in the Iraq war.

According to the minutes cited by the Times, a British official identified as "C" said that he had returned from a meeting in Washington and that "military action was now seen as inevitable" by U.S. officials.

"Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," the memo said, according to the newspaper.

The minutes also quoted the unnamed British official as saying the U.S. National Security Council had "no patience" with taking the dispute to the United Nations and "no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record."

"There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action," the official said, according to the minutes published by the Times.

The memo also quoted British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon as saying that the final push to war would likely begin a month before the U.S. congressional elections in November 2002, with an actual attack coming in January 2003.

President Bush did begin trying to build public support for military action against Iraq during the mid-term election, which saw Republicans pick up seats in both the House and Senate. The invasion came four months later, in March 2003.

British officials have not disputed the authenticity of the memo published by the Times.

After the minutes of the meeting became public, 89 Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to Bush asking for an explanation.

The memo "raises troubling new questions regarding the legal justifications for the war, as well as the integrity of your administration," the letter said.

 
 
 
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