British officials were in favour of ‘whacking’ Osama Bin Laden nine months before 9/11 terror attacks, newly-released papers show
- The readiness to target Al Qaeda chief was mentioned in a briefing to Tony Blair
- Sir Tony had a close relationship with Clinton, whose presidency ended in 2001
- Files reveal No 10’s initial nerves about how to handle successor George Bush
Britain was ‘all in favour of whacking’ Osama Bin Laden at least nine months before 9/11.
The readiness to target the Al Qaeda chief was mentioned in a briefing to Tony Blair ahead of a dinner with Bill Clinton.
The then-PM’s foreign affairs adviser Sir John Sawers laid out points the ex-US president ‘may raise or which you might want to ask about’.
Sir John briefed on the US’s likely response to the bombing of USS Cole, which killed 17 US sailors, off Yemen and discussed possible air strikes.
The readiness to target the Al Qaeda chief was mentioned in a briefing to Tony Blair ahead of a dinner with Bill Clinton
Sir John said the US ‘won’t launch strikes until they have a smoking gun.’ He added: ‘We’re all in favour of whacking [Bin Laden], but need a bit of notice and a chance to influence the timing.’ Bin Laden was eventually killed by the US in 2011.
Sir Tony had a famously close relationship with Mr Clinton, whose presidency ended in January 2001, and the files also reveal No 10’s initial nerves about how to handle his successor George Bush.
Soon after Mr Bush’s election, Britain’s ambassador to the US Sir Christopher Meyer warned of a potential ‘cultural clash’, the files show.
He wrote to Sir John and Downing Street chief of staff Jonathan Powell about a conversation with US trade representative Bob Zoellick ‘who spent most of dinner giving advice on how the prime minister should handle Bush.’
Soon after Mr Bush’s election, Britain’s ambassador to the US Sir Christopher Meyer warned of a potential ‘cultural clash’, the files show
Mr Zoellick had said the PM should ‘reach out to’ Mr Bush, for whom first impressions were vital. ‘He [Bush] believed in his talent to take the measure of people quickly. He favoured informality,’ Sir Christopher said.
Mr Zoellick did not see an ‘ideological’ conflict between a New Labour government and a Republican administration but said to watch out for the risk of a cultural clash.
He illustrated that by referring to joking remarks which Lord Robertson, the former Labour Defence Secretary who became NATO General Secretary in 1999, had made in Washington ‘about his CND past and demonstrating against US nuclear submarine bases in Scotland’. That ‘had not gone down well.’
The files show Sir Tony was the first foreign leader to call congratulate Mr Bush when his victory in the US election was confirmed.
He asked early on if he could call Mr Bush by his first name. Mr Bush said yes – ‘but stuck himself to addressing the prime minster as “sir”,’ a memo says.
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