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Inside Politics

McCain: I don't agree with British war memo

Leaked document says U.S. set up conditions for Iraq invasion

• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
John McCain
Great Britain

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John McCain said Sunday he doesn't "agree with" the secret minutes of a high-level British meeting in 2002 saying "intelligence and facts were being fixed" to support a U.S.-led war in Iraq -- well before the president sought approval on the war from Congress.

The memo was made public earlier this month by the Times of London newspaper. British officials did not dispute its authenticity.

McCain, speaking on ABC's "This Week," said he has not seen any evidence that the Bush administration manipulated evidence, but admitted that "certain serious mistakes [were] made."

"But I do not believe that the Bush administration decided that they would set up a scenario that gave us the rationale for going into Iraq," the Arizona Republican said.

The Bush administration still has not commented on the memo. On May 6, 89 Democratic members of Congress sent President Bush a letter asking for an explanation of the memo. (Full story)

The meeting described in the memo took place in London on July 23, 2002.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon, Attorney General Peter Goldsmith, MI6 chief Richard Dearlove and others attended the meeting.

According to the minutes, a British official identified as "C" said that he had returned from a meeting in Washington and that "military action was now seen as inevitable" by U.S. officials.

"Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD," the memo said "But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the U.N. route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action."

The memo further discussed the military options under consideration by the United States along with Britain's possible role and quoted Hoon as saying that the United States had not finalized a timeline, but that it would likely begin "30 days before the U.S. congressional elections," culminating with the actual attack in January 2003.

The congressional letter, initiated by Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said the memo "raises troubling new questions regarding the legal justifications for the war as well as the integrity of your own administration."

"While various individuals have asserted this to be the case before, including Paul O'Neill, former U.S. treasury secretary, and Richard Clarke, a former National Security Council official, they have been previously dismissed by your administration," the letter said.

But, the letter said, when the document was leaked, Blair's spokesman called it "nothing new."

"It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided," the memo said, quoting the British attorney general. "But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."

The British officials determined to push for an ultimatum for Saddam to allow U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq to "help with the legal justification for the use of force ... despite U.S. resistance."

Britain's attorney general, Peter Goldsmith, advised the group that "the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action" and two of three possible legal bases -- self-defense and humanitarian intervention -- could not be used.

The third was a U.N. Security Council resolution, which Goldsmith said "would be difficult."

Blair thought that "it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the U.N. inspectors."

"If the political context were right, people would support regime change," the memo said. Later, the memo said, Blair would work to convince Bush that they should pursue the ultimatum with Saddam even though "many in the U.S. did not think it worth going down the ultimatum route."

McCain seemed to follow Blair's reasoning, avoiding the question of the memo's contents except to say he didn't believe it was accurate.

"I think the important aspect of the opening of this conflict was that it's clear the status quo was not prevailing, that the sanctions were eroding, American pilots were being shot at every day, there was a clear intent on the part of Saddam Hussein that he'd shown throughout his entire regime, that he'd like to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction. He'd used them before.

"Was there a massive intelligence failure? Absolutely. But to somehow suppose that if we had not attacked Saddam Hussein, that everything would have been fine in Iraq, I think defies the history of Saddam Hussein and his attempts to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction. Even his own generals thought that he had weapons of mass destruction.

"Again, was it a massive intelligence failure? Should people be held responsible? Yes."

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