Blair Downplays 'Downing Street'

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday that the "Downing Street memos" paint a distorted picture and insisted that the Iraq war was not predetermined by the United States.

"People say the decision was already taken. The decision was not already taken," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. Blair added that he was "a bit astonished" at the intensive coverage the leaked memos, which suggested British officials had doubts about the case for war, have received in the United States.

According to the leaked minutes of a July 23, 2002, meeting between Blair and top government officials at his Downing Street office, Sir Richard Dearlove, then chief of Britain's intelligence service, said the White House viewed military action against Saddam Hussein as inevitable following the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD," read the memo, seen by The Associated Press. "But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

In the interview, Blair said raising such concerns was a natural part of any examination of the cause for war.

"The trouble with having a political discussion on the basis of things that are leaked is that they are always taken right out of context. Everything else is omitted from the discussion and you end up focusing on a specific document."

"It would be absolutely weird if, when the Iraq issue was on the agenda, you were not constantly raising issues, trying to work them out, get them in the right place," he said.

Details of the memos appeared in British newspapers last month but the news in Britain quickly turned to the May 5 election that returned Blair to power. In the United States, however, the revelations raised criticism among opponents of the Bush administration.

"I am a bit astonished at how this has received such coverage in the U.S. because the fact is after the memo was done we went to the United Nations," Blair said.

"What people forget about that memo is that that (it) occurred nine months before the conflict... So whatever issues there were, we resolved them ultimately by saying we have got to give it one last chance to work peacefully."