Washington stalls UK's Iraq war inquiry? London claims 'no US veto' over Blair-Bush notes

Reports that the US will veto the disclosure of conversations between former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President George W. Bush have been denied by the UK Cabinet Office, which stated that the US does not have a veto.

The communications between the leaders are seen as key pieces of evidence in the inquiry into British involvement in the US-led invasion of Iraq.

The inquiry, which began in 2009 and is led by Sir John Chilcot, has been delayed because the exchanges have yet to be released by the British government.

The spokesman for the Cabinet Office said the communications were a “particularly privileged channel of communication.”

The Government is currently engaged in discussions with the inquiry. All sides recognize that this raises difficult issues involving legal and international relations considerations,” the spokesman said. “Any suggestion that the US has a veto is wrong.”

Sir John has written to British Prime Minister David Cameron asking for access to 25 notes from Blair to Bush. He has also asked for 130 records of phone conversations between Blair and Bush, and Gordon Brown and Bush.

But according to senior diplomatic sources in the US and Whitehall who spoke to the Independent , officials  in the White House and the US State Department have refused to declassify the pre- and post-war communications between George W. Bush and Tony Blair.

Media reports suggest the Bush-Blair exchanges are likely to provide critical evidence of the covert way that Tony Blair committed 45,000 British soldiers to the US-led invasion. 

Sir John Chilcot (AFP Photo/Shaun Curry)

“The US [is] highly possessive when documents relate to the presence of the President or anyone close to him. Tony Blair is involved in a dialogue in many of these documents, and naturally someone else is at the other end – the President. Therefore this is not Tony Blair’s or the UK Government’s property to disclose,” a top diplomatic source told the Independent.

Chilcot, or anyone in London, does not decide what documents relating to a US president are published,” the source added. 

The ‘special relationship’

Chilcot himself has described his conversations with the UK government regarding the disclosure of the communications as being difficult.

He said that over the last six months, he has asked for the details of 200 cabinet-level discussions between Blair and Bush. 

The Cabinet Office was clear as to why some of the documents requested by Chilcot needed to be handled sensitively.

It is in the public’s interest that exchanges between the UK Prime Minister and the US President are privileged. The whole premise about withholding them [from publication] is to ensure that we do not prejudice our relations with the United States,” a spokesman told the Independent on Wednesday.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood has previously been criticized for blocking the delivery of crucial documents for the inquiry. Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat’s foreign affairs spokesman who was a high-profile opponent to the Iraq War, has called the delays “intolerable” and says the “full story” must be told.

Commentators have speculated that a watered down, toothless conclusion may be released in the spring, which would absolve Tony Blair of any wrongdoing and would not upset the so-called “special relationship” between the US and the UK. 

The other possibility is that the report will be so heavily redacted that it will be meaningless and £8 million (US$12.8 million) of taxpayers’ money will have been wasted. The inquiry is already many months behind schedule and was due to publish its conclusions in 2012.