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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 February, 2004, 15:32 GMT
No 10 'understands' 45-mins worry
The government's Iraq weapons dossier
The 45 minute claim remains controversial
The government has said it understands why MPs were worried a controversial claim about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction could be misinterpreted.

An MPs' committee last year criticised the way the claim that Iraq could use WMD within 45 minutes was put in the government's September 2002 dossier.

Some newspapers suggested the claim meant British forces in Cyprus were under threat from Iraqi missiles.

In a response to the MPs, ministers say it never mentioned ballistic missiles.

Unhelpful?

Parliament's intelligence and committee last year noted the 45 minute claim in the dossier did not mention that it was referring to battlefield weapons rather than ballistic missiles.

"The 45 minute claim, included four times, was always likely to attract attention because it was arresting detail that the public had not seen before," said the MPs.

"The omission of the context and assessment allowed speculation as to its exact meaning. This was unhelpful to an understanding of this issue."

In its response on Tuesday, Downing Street said: "The government understands the reasoning behind the committee's view that the presentation of the 45 minutes issue in the dossier, which was compiled for the public and not for experienced readers of intelligence material, allowed speculation as to its exact meaning.

"However, the government notes that the dossier did not say that Iraq could deliver chemical or biological weapons by ballistic missiles within 45 minutes."

In the spotlight

In a separate report, the Commons foreign affairs committee said the 45 minutes claim did not warrant the prominence it was given in the dossier because it came from a single, uncorroborated source.

But in its response to that criticism, the government says the claim was not given undue prominence.

It says the claim was in the Joint Intelligence Committee's assessments and consistent with the JIC's judgements on Iraq's command and control arrangements.

"Other issues were given a similar level of prominence in the dossier: for example, the judgement that Iraq was building up its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capability and that it was concealing its programmes," it adds.

The government says it stands by its interpretation of the intelligence available at the time on the 45 minutes claim.

Inquiry focus

Whether that intelligence was correct and how the government used it is now set for scrutiny in the inquiry set up by the government on Tuesday.

Last week Lord Hutton said the allegation, included in one of Andrew Gilligan's BBC reports, that the government knew the 45 minutes claim was probably wrong when it put it into the dossier was "unfounded".

The claim it had been inserted late into the dossier because it only came from one source and the security services did not believe it was necessarily true was also unfounded, he said.

Instead, he said, its inclusion had been approved by the Joint Intelligence Committee.




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