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U.S.: Al-Jazeera bomb story 'outlandish'

British paper: Blair talked Bush out of airstrike on network

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The White House characterized as "outlandish" Tuesday a British newspaper report that President Bush once discussed bombing the headquarters of Arabic-language television network Al-Jazeera with Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Al-Jazeera, based in Qatar, called on the British government to confirm or deny the report, which appeared Tuesday in the Daily Mirror, a London tabloid.

The network has been a frequent target of U.S. criticism, and its facilities have been hit by U.S. bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq. Al-Jazeera said the Daily Mirror report would be "both shocking and worrisome" if true. (Watch whether Bush considered targeting the television network --1:42)

"It would cast serious doubts in regard to the U.S. administration's version of previous incidents involving Al-Jazeera's journalists and offices," the network said in a statement.

"It would also constitute a new chapter in the relationship between two of the most powerful governments in the world and media organizations in general," the statement said.

The Daily Mirror reported that Blair talked Bush out of launching an airstrike against Al-Jazeera's headquarters in Qatar -- a U.S. ally -- during an April 16, 2004, meeting at the White House.

Citing a top-secret memo from Blair's office, the tabloid said Bush was angered by the network's coverage of the uprising in the western Iraqi city of Falluja.

U.S. Marines had been deployed to the city about 35 miles west of Baghdad on the Euphrates River to restore order after four American security guards had been killed and their bodies mutilated by insurgents.

"We are not going to dignify something so outlandish with a response," a White House official told CNN. A Pentagon official called the Daily Mirror report "absolutely absurd."

Al-Jazeera said it wanted to be "absolutely sure" the memo cited in the report is genuine and urged 10 Downing Street to confirm the information if true.

If the memo is accurate, the network's statement said, "it would be incumbent on them to explain their positions on statements regarding the deliberate targeting of journalists and news organizations."

Downing Street spokesman Ian Gleeson said Blair's office would have no comment since the memo the Daily Mirror cited is the subject of court action.

The newspaper reported that two people have been charged with violating British secrecy laws in connection with its release.

Top Bush administration officials, particularly Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have been sharply critical of Al-Jazeera in the past.

When U.S. troops went back into Falluja in November 2004, Rumsfeld called the network's account of civilian casualties during the American push to retake the city "outrageous nonsense" and "vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable."

An Al-Jazeera reporter was killed and three other employees were wounded by an American airstrike during the U.S. push into Baghdad in 2003.

American bombs struck the network's Kabul office during the U.S. assault on Afghanistan in 2001.

During the 1999 air campaign over Kosovo, U.S. warplanes targeted Yugoslavia's state television network. NATO officials argued it was a legitimate target as the propaganda arm of the Yugoslav government.

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