Wed, Nov 09, 2005 - Page 7 News List

UK ministers failed to win respect in US: ex-diplomat


Many of the British ministers who had visited Washington in the run-up to the Iraq war were political pygmies who failed to win the respect of their US counterparts, according to the former British ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer.

In his memoirs, DC Confidential, serialized in the Guardian yesterday, Meyer is scathing about leading British Cabinet ministers such as the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, the former defense secretary Geoff Hoon and the deputy prime minister, John Prescott.

He expresses despair about ministers with direct responsibility for preparations for the Iraq war, saying that Straw was intimidated and tongue-tied in the presence of administration officials.


He also singles out the prime minister's special envoy to the Middle East and Labour fundraiser, Lord Levy, for particular criticism, describing him as having pretensions to be "a latter-day Kissinger."

He says that some ministers were respected in Washington, such as the chancellor, Gordon Brown, and the current defense secretary, John Reid. But such capable ministers "stood out like Masai warriors in a crowd of pygmies."

The first extracts from the book, published in the Guardian, forced UK Prime Minister Tony Blair on to the defensive at his monthly press conference on Monday.

Responding to claims that he could have delayed the war and secured Iraq's long-term future, he shifted the blame to the French for allegedly blocking a second UN resolution.


The prime minister said he had strenuously sought a second resolution "that would have given us more time."

He repeated London's and Washington's long-held belief that the resolution was scuppered by France's threat to use its UN veto.

"That is the reason why in the end you had to make a choice, and there was no other way," the prime minister added.

However, in his book Meyer asserts that French diplomats told him privately at the time that a deal could have been reached.

He argues that Labour's long spell in opposition left Blair reliant on a "coterie of personal advisers" and says that this "may explain the hesitancy and nervousness of some ministers on business in Washington."

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