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Great Britain: Prime Minister delays releasing a dossier on gains made by Iraq in developing weapons of mass destruction.



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MARK COLVIN: The disastrous worsening of the situation in Israel is already affecting America’s build-up to possible confrontation with Iraq, the clearest indication so far is that Britain has delayed its preparations for any possible attack. Prime Minister Tony Blair has delayed the release of a dossier intended to persuade the world that Iraq had made significant gains in the development of weapons of mass destruction.

 

Crucially, the dossier’s publication will be delayed until after Prime Minister Blair has met President Bush this weekend. Rafael Epstein prepared this report.

 

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Saddam Hussein in a very public meeting with officials in Baghdad, saying he’s sure the Palestinians will win. The Iraqi dictator knows that Yasser Arafat’s portrayal of himself as a martyr and a victim is seriously hampering America’s diplomatic campaign against Iraq. The debacle in the West Bank and Israel has produced serious misgivings in Britain which has, until now, been President Bush’s sternest ally in the build-up of diplomatic rhetoric against Saddam Hussein.

 

Here Saddam Hussein is calling on the Arab world to help the Palestinians. And someone in the office at No. 10 Downing Street is making sure the British newspapers know the Blair government will sit on its hands. They were due to release a dossier detailing Iraq’s advances in the production of the biological weapons anthrax and botulinum toxin. The dossier was to have softened European and Arab objections to a military attack on Iraq. Before America’s attack on Afghanistan Mr Blair released a dossier outlining allied evidence against Osama bin Laden, widely seen as a vital step in winning world backing for the attack on Kabul.

 

But the Observer newspaper says the frenzied speculation about an attack on Iraq in the midst of such violence in Israel and the West Bank was so damaging Mr Blair’s relations with his own party that two Cabinet ministers—Clare Short and Robin Cook—are threatening to quit. The paper says backbench MPs who’ve seen some of the dossier are distinctly underwhelmed, believing much of the dossier is based on evidence gained by the last UN inspection team in 1998. The paper says Britain’s intelligence chiefs are nervous about releasing information that would compromise sources, but that which they were prepared to publish was speculation and assumption. The Guardian newspaper says even the CIA is unsure of what weapons Saddam Hussein has developed. All of this just as Tony Blair is set to meet President Bush this weekend.

 

These American and British troops praying at an Easter service in Afghanistan were expected to move on to Iraq before the end of the year, but with the Arab world now so outraged by American inaction over Israel and the Palestinians, Tony Blair’s office is reluctant to release a dossier that would have been the showpiece of the Bush-Blair so-called war summit this weekend at the President’s Texan ranch. The dossier will be there but it seems in the face of Israeli and Palestinian violence Tony Blair may be stepping back from his previous determination to back George Bush wherever and whenever he wants to go.

 

MARK COLVIN: Rafael Epstein.