'Blair talked Bush out of bombing'
Tuesday 22 November, 2005 4:33pm
There were calls for Downing Street to publish the transcript of a conversation between Tony Blair and US President George Bush, amid claims that the Prime Minister persuaded Mr Bush not to launch a military strike on a TV station in a friendly Arab state.
According to unnamed sources quoted in the Daily Mirror, the memo - stamped Top Secret - records Mr Bush suggesting that he might order the bombing of Al-Jazeera's studios in Qatar.
And it allegedly details how Mr Blair argued against an attack on the station's buildings in the business district of Doha, the capital city of Qatar, which is a key ally of the West in the Persian Gulf.
Al-Jazeera had sparked the anger of the US administration by broadcasting video messages from al Qaida head Osama bin Laden and leaders of the insurgency in Iraq, as well as showing footage of the bodies of US servicemen and Iraqi civilians killed in fighting.
According to the Mirror's source, the transcript records a conversation during Mr Blair's visit to the White House on April 16 last year, in the wake of a failed attempt to root out insurgents in the city of Fallujah, in which 30 US Marines died.
A spokesman for 10 Downing Street refused to discuss the leaked memo.
But former defence minister Peter Kilfoyle - a leading Labour opponent of the Iraq War - called for the document to be made public.
"I believe that Downing Street ought to publish this memo in the interests of transparency, given that much of the detail appears to be in the public domain," he told the Press Association.
"I think they ought to clarify what exactly happened on this occasion. If it was the case that President Bush wanted to bomb al-Jazeera in what is after all a friendly country, it speaks volumes and it raises questions about subsequent attacks that took place on the press that wasn't embedded with coalition forces."
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell told PA: "If true, then this underlines the desperation of the Bush administration as events in Iraq began to spiral out of control. On this occasion, the Prime Minister may have been successful in averting political disaster, but it shows how dangerous his relationship with President Bush has been."