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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 September, 2003, 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
Hoon regrets Iraq 'misunderstanding'
Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary
Hoon has faced almost daily criticism in the press
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has told MPs he "regrets" any confusion caused by his evidence to a parliamentary inquiry into the Iraq weapons dossier.

Facing calls for his resignation in a Commons debate, Mr Hoon said he was sorry if his appearance before the Intelligence and Security Committee had caused any misunderstanding.

The committee said it was "disturbed" that Mr Hoon did not inform them of letters from two Defence Intelligence Staff members questioning the dossier.

But Mr Hoon told MPs: "I want to make it quite clear that I had no intention whatsoever in being other than open and straightforward with the committee.

"And I regret any misunderstanding that might have arisen."

The committee - which said the dossier had not been "sexed up" by Downing Street - said the initial failure of the Ministry of Defence to reveal the concerns had been "unhelpful and potentially misleading".

With hindsight, there are lessons to be learned but at the end the report concludes everyone did their best
Michael Mates MP
Committee member

The criticism comes in a key report on the government's handling of the case for war with Iraq, which was published on Thursday.

The report says there was no political interference in the publication of the dossier by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) from government media chief Alastair Campbell "or anyone else".

But it says the way the claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes was presented in the dossier was "unhelpful to an understanding of this issue".

Terror warnings

The report also says the document failed to make it clear that Saddam Hussein's regime was not considered a "current or imminent threat to mainland UK".

And it revealed Tony Blair over-rode intelligence warnings that war with Iraq would increase, rather than decrease, the risks of weapons of mass destruction falling into terrorist hands.

INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY COMMITTEE
Oversees work of MI5, MI6, GCHQ
Made up of nine senior politicians
Meets in private and has access to intelligence reports
Government can cut sensitive details from its reports

The latest criticism of Mr Hoon comes after weeks of bad press for him in the wake of the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly.

But Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Mr Hoon had the backing of Tony Blair and said he had "no doubt that he should and will continue in his post".

In the Commons debate, Conservative shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin challenged Mr Hoon to "do the honourable thing, accept responsibility and resign".

Potentially misleading

Mr Hoon argued the main difference between him and the committee was over whether he should have specifically mentioned that the DIS concerns were put in writing.

At the time, the concerns about were part of normal drafting process, he said, stressing that the two worried DIS members had not said the 45-minute claim should not be included in the dossier.

They... did not know what munitions the Iraqi officer was referring to or their status. Nor did they know from where and to where munitions might be moved
ISC report on the 45 minute claim

ISC chairman Ann Taylor said the report was not demanding the defence secretary's resignation, but said he should have "volunteered" the fact that staff had made written statements outlining their concerns.

She said: "He did not tell us lies. It was potentially misleading, events overtook it."

The Intelligence and Security Committee, made up of six Labour MPs, two Tories and one Liberal Democrat, questioned Dr Kelly two days before he was found dead and the report sheds more light on what was said when it questioned the scientist.

Arresting detail

That question session - described as "calm" by Mrs Taylor - came after Dr Kelly was named as the suspected source for a BBC Today programme story about claims the government "sexed up" the threat from Iraq's weapons.

The BBC said its source cited the 45-minute claim as something included in the dossier at the behest of Downing Street against the wishes of the intelligence services.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The blame has been constantly passed from one person to another
Andy, UK

The ISC report said the 45-minute claim was "always likely to attract attention because it was an arresting detail that the public had not seen before".

"The fact that it was assessed to refer to battlefield chemical and biological munitions and their movement on the battlefield, not to any other form of chemical or biological attack, should have been highlighted in the dossier."

The ISC has passed its report and the evidence it was given to the Hutton inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly, which resumes next week.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Mark Mardell
"It is hard to see how Hoon can take any more damage"



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