President Bill Clinton warned Prime Minister Tony Blair of the “nightmare” situation developing in Iraq four years before British and American troops toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Revealed in previously secret documents detailing phone calls between the two leaders, Clinton spoke to Blair in October 1999 about the differences
between the British and American positions on lifting sanctions on the Iraqi regime.
Clinton told Blair that if Hussein "meets his disarmaments obligations" he would be prepared to "suspend sanctions" against the state. But warned, "If we say to this guy [Hussein] 'if you start to comply we will lift sanctions' he will quickly reestablish the weapons of mass destruction program."
"It may not happen while I'm in office, but it will for you,” Clinton added, noting “it could become a real nightmare for you."
The rest of the conversation on Iraq is heavily redacted [Page 433 of the transcript].
The documents were given to the Clinton Presidential Library and published on Thursday by the BBC. Britain and the US invaded Iraq in 2003, two years after Clinton left office. However, Blair remained in power until 2007. Coalition troops were finally withdrawn from Iraq in 2011.
Prime Minister Tony Blair shares a joke with former American President Bill Clinton following his address to delegates at the Labour Party conference in the Winter Gardens
Ending the rule of Hussein and then withdrawing coalition troops pushed the region into turmoil. Iraq and the neighbouring state of Syria remain scarred by civil war in which members of the Islamic State group are locked in a battle for territory with government forces. Detractors blame Blair and President George W. Bush, who followed Clinton into the White House, for the chaos.
In Britain, Blair has been accused of taking the country into the Iraq War under false pretenses. The prime minister’s justification for toppling Saddam was that the dictator had weapons of mass destruction, a charge that later proved false.
In October last year, Blair admitted that the actions of London and Washington in Iraq could be partly responsible for the rise of Isis. In a TV interview, Blair said: “I apologise for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong. I also apologise for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.”
A six-year inquiry into Britain’s role in the conflict is due to be published this year by Sir John Chilcot, after a series of delays.
The freshly published papers also reveal a conversation between the two leaders following the death of Princess Diana, a person Blair said "we knew and liked," and badinage about Clinton taking "babysitting duties" before the birth of Blair's son Leo.
The pair also discussed what members of the IRA would likely do with their lives after the conflict, and how Bill could become a “honourary UK citizen.”