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Thursday, 12 September, 2002, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
It's Newslog, Nick Robinson's unique diary from the heart of the news. It's a two-way process though, so add your comments too.

Thursday 12 September

Shock re-entry?
posted by Nick | 1640 BST | Add comment
Well, well, well. Wonders will never cease. I have just spied Stephen Byers going through the famous black door of Downing Street - news I was able to convey to a startled press office inside.

What on earth could he be doing there? Envoy to Baghdad? Weapons inspector? Any suggestions gratefully received.

User comment:
Maybe they¿re sending him to be Iraqi transport minister?? Presumably the plan is to completely destroy the Iraqi army¿s logistics, and cause civilian chaos among Baghdad travellers?
Alasdair Russell


The war (of sorts) has started
posted by Nick | 1150 BST | Add comment
The war's already begun. Even though no missiles have been fired, in this war the weapons are leaks of intelligence reports, dossiers, and nods and hints about military action. I talk, of course, of the propaganda war.

If the cuckoo is the first sign of spring, sneers at the BBC's coverage are the first sign that we are heading for conflict.

This morning, as I was sitting outside a cafe in Whitehall, sipping my coffee and scanning the Daily Mirror, I was passed by a Downing Street political strategist who said: "Ah I see the BBC's taking its instructions from the Mirror again."

The Sunday papers showed the propaganda war hard at work. Several papers screamed out the threat to Britain of Saddam's nuclear weapons. To be fair to Tony Blair, he had in fact said only that there was a threat to British interests in any war involving Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

But on this occasion, Downing Street was happy with the Sundays' hysterical write-ups of the threat.

Another piece of evidence was the line-up to the second session of the talks at Camp David. After a tête-à-tête between the president and the prime minister, they were joined not just by diplomats but by the spin doctors and speech writers, led by Alastair Campbell on the Blair side and Karen Hughes on Bush's.

Separating truth from propaganda is far from easy, though, and cynicism isn't always the best tool.

I recall the last dossier the government produced on Al-Qaeda and a man who few of us had heard of called Osama Bin Laden. Plenty of serious people were unconvinced by it, but now of course we've heard him and others openly boast of their involvement in September 11.


Wednesday 11 September

It's back to school
posted by Nick | 1625 BST | Add comment
Clear your diaries for 24 September. School's coming back early with our parliamentary boys and girls recalled to talk about Iraq.

Political anoraks among you may notice this clashes with the Lib Dem Conference. Along with the trip to Putin's dacha on the day of IDS's speech, Tony Blair's doing his best to help the other parties get their message across!!

Why not next week you might ask. Ah, well the famed dossier is not yet ready.


Response to user comment
That's a good argument. What's curious is why the prime minister and the president, so far at least, have been reluctant to make it .


User comment
Nick asks reasonably why deterrence is not an option. Maybe because deterrence does not work against terrorist groups who are prepared to die for their cause. The real worry about Saddam Hussein acquiring nuclear (or more likely biological/chemical weapons) is not that he would attack the West or Israel directly but that he would supply groups like Al-Qaeda with the means to do so.
David Taylor, UK


Welcome back
posted by Nick | 1033 BST | Add comment
It's good to see the unions adding spice to the somewhat bland political dish that's been served up in recent years.

The finger stabbers are back with a vengeance.

The phrase "working people" has been restored to its rightful place, as in: "An attack on Iraq will kill thousands of working people." (Presumably killing the unemployed is OK.)

The man to watch, though, is not among those who Tony Blair can easily label "wreckers".

It's Derek Simpson, general secretary-elect of Amicus (perhaps better knows as Animus, in the light of its bitter internal struggle).

He's promised to give Tony Blair not a headache, but "an effing migraine", suggesting I trust a new name for the Simpsons of this world - "The Migraine Tendency".


Tuesday 10 September

Boos up
posted by Nick | 1525 BST | Add comment
Those trade unionists listening to the prime minister in Blackpool certainly know how to hurt.

Boos, jeers, walkouts... they would have been so easy for Tony Blair to cope with. In fact they would have been a gift. Instead there was an agonisingly long period of total blank silence from the delegates.

Not even one brought their hands together when he promised to go through the United Nations.

Tony Blair is used to love and to hate. Steely contempt and mistrust is something he's clearly going to have to get used to.


Stumping ground
posted by Nick | 1230 BST | Add comment
Talking of doctrine (an unfashionable word these days), it's something that Downing Street should be giving a bit more thought to.

What's wrong with the doctrine of deterrence when it comes to facing Iraq?

After all other prime ministers have faced dictators armed with weapons of mass destruction before and they have not argued for pre-emptive strikes to tackle them.

That was a question I put to Tony Blair at his recent news conference, at which he grinned with the weary shrug of a man bored by such high-minded considerations.

One of his advisors told me that actually that's the body language he reserves for questions he really wishes you hadn't asked, and to which he hasn't yet thought of an answer for.


posted by Nick | 1130 BST | Add comment

A chance to daydream this morning, en route to the Brothers' Congress in Blackpool.

What if Tony Blair weren't prime minister at this troubled time, but instead we were led by a man of the Right such as Jacques Chirac.

His speech to the TUC wouldn't, ironically, risk boos and jeers, judging by his interview in the New York Times. He pledged to be America's friend but never a sycophant, he'd warn of the dangers of unilateral action, of any new doctrine of pre-emptive action, and of the arrogance of aiming for regime change.

He would then of course condemn Saddam, insisting that the UN take him on and hint that military action might be necessary. The result I suspect would be cheered by all but the most confirmed anti-Americans inside and outside the hall.

Odd, isn't it, that New Labour would feel more comfortable with a Gaullist in charge?


Sunday 8 September

So now we know
posted by Nick | 0200 BST | Add comment

Tony and George have an agreed strategy that's sensible and measured.

Unfortunately they won't tell us what it is. The answer should come on Thursday in the president's big speech to the UN.

But here's my guess (which could be proved wrong all too soon!) - a deadline for Saddam to readmit UN weapons inspectors, backed up by the threat of military action possibly on specific targets suspected of storing or producing weapons of mass destruction.

The question no-one knows for sure - not perhaps even Tony Blair - is whether even that would be enough for a president who said he wants regime change in Iraq.

It's going to be an interesting few weeks.


Saturday 7 September

What did I tell you?
posted by Nick | 2230 BST | Add comment

The "Saddam's got nukes" campaign has already begun, with George Bush quoting a report that Iraq was six months away from obtaining nuclear weapons.

That claim caused bafflement among British officials with me at the Andrews Air force base.

It seems as though the president may have been referring to a report about what Iraq would have been able to do if it had not been for the Gulf War.

However, he created the impression he wanted with the Fox News network here in the US flashing on the screen that Iraq was six months away from obtaining nuclear weapons.

In these days of propaganda we're going to have to look very hard to separate truth from supposition and mere claims.

Why now?
posted by Nick | 1800 BST | Add comment

Tony Blair knows that "Why now?", is the hardest question he and George Bush have to answer.

After all, there has been no invasion - like that of Kuwait - or attack - like that on 9/11 - to justify military action now.

Their answer seems to be "If not now, when?".

Tony Blair claims that, in the past four years since UN weapons inspectors left Iraq, Saddam has made significant progress in developing weapons of mass destruction.

Yet he also admits that "we don't have the faintest idea what has happened in that time".

That is somewhat disappointing for those waiting expectantly for the much talked-of dossier of evidence.

To win the battle for public and international support he will have to do better than that. Nuclear is the key.

Stand by for a massive PR effort to persuade the world that Saddam is on the brink of having a useable nuke.

That effort won't be helped though by a characteristically candid interview given by Colin Powell to David Frost (to be shown on Sunday morning).

In it he says that Saddam may not get nuclear weapons for nine years. So Tony and George, why now?


If you had seen the procession of Tony Blair boarding his plane to the States you would be forgiven for thinking that Tony and George were going to jam at Camp David.

A guitar could be distinctly seen as part of the prime minister's luggage.

It turns out to be an "ugly rumour" (get it?*), since the instrument belongs to a shame-faced Downing Street underling - a man now hiding at the back of the plane from an irate Alastair Campbell.

His only saving grace is that he did not bring a Stetson and cowboy boots along as well.

Come to think of it, any idea what tune they would play if Tony and George did jam together - all suggestions to the usual address.

*For those who haven't heard of their work, Ugly Rumours was the band Tony Blair played guitar with back in his student days.


Surely it has to be that 'pearl' from the 50's & 60's which went something like ''It's Good News Week! They've dropped another bomb somewhere ''. That one has my 'no pregnant chad vote '. Regards !
B.W.Moore, UK

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