Jamie Doward /The Observer – 2007-02-03 09:02:44
Foreign Office Says Envoy’s Book ‘Risks Damaging Morale’
LONDON (January 28, 2007) — The foreign office has made a last-ditch attempt to stop one of its former senior diplomats from publishing a book claiming that the government knew that Iraq did not represent a significant threat to the West in the run-up to the Iraq war.
Last night Carne Ross, who was a member of the British mission to the United Nations, declined to comment on a letter asking him to ‘reconsider’ his decision to publish his book, Independent Diplomat, other than to describe it as ‘unpleasant’.
A spokesman said: ‘The Foreign and Commonwealth Office disagrees fundamentally with much of the book and is disappointed that Mr Ross has chosen to misrepresent the FCO. In doing so, he risks damaging the credibility and morale of the FCO and the relationship of confidence and trust within government.’
Ross, who signed the Official Secrets Act, has already been forced to censor the book on the grounds of national security.
The row mirrors Foreign Office concerns over attempts by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador to the UN, to write his account of the war in Iraq. Greenstock, Ross’s boss, subsequently dropped plans to publish his own book.
Ross’s book is likely to make uncomfortable reading for ministers as it raises questions about why the government continued to support the Iraq invasion if it did not believe that Saddam Hussein was a genuine threat.
A diplomat for 15 years, Ross resigned in 2004 after giving secret testimony to the Butler inquiry on the war. It included the allegation that between 1998 and mid-2002, when Ross worked at the UN, Britain and the United States assessed that Iraq was not a threat.
Ross says that the book, to be published next month, is a serious critique of the government’s foreign policy rather than a ‘kiss and tell’. As it has been written by someone who has been at the centre of the government’s foreign policy-making during a crucial time in recent British history, it is likely to provoke a debate that the Foreign Office will not want to see aired.
Ross admitted his decision to give evidence to Butler was the end of his relationship with his former employer. ‘I had written many resignation letters over the years, but after Butler I knew there was no going back,’ he said. ‘It is not done to speak out.’
Ross, who described himself as a ‘rottweiler’ at the UN in his ferocious defence of British foreign policy, came to question his beliefs when he took time off from the Foreign Office.
‘I had become more and more disillusioned with the way the Foreign Office had practised foreign policy,’ he said. ‘I took a sabbatical in 2002 and that’s when I really started to question my personal role. I did many things I’m not proud of.’
He said many people in the Foreign Office who had vetted the book sympathised with his arguments, which focus on the idea that foreign policy is concentrated in the hands of too few people and that those it affects are not involved in its formation.
Submitted to the Foreign Office for clearance in August 2006, the department finally approved it – with cuts – last December. Last night the Foreign Office confirmed that it had sent Ross a letter but said this was not an attempt to halt the book’s publication.
Jamie Doward is home affairs editor of the Observer.
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