Memo hints Bush determined to have war

Don Van Natta Jr. New York Times Mar. 27, 2006 12:00 AM

LONDON - In the weeks before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, as the United States and Britain pressed for a second U.N. resolution condemning Iraq, President Bush's public ultimatum to Saddam Hussein was blunt: Disarm or face war.

But behind closed doors, Bush was certain that war was inevitable. During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made it clear to British Prime Minister Tony Blair that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Blair's top foreign policy adviser and reviewed by the New York Times.

"Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning," David Manning, Blair's chief foreign policy adviser at the time, wrote in the memo that summarized the discussion among Bush, Blair and six top aides.

"The start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for 10 March," Manning wrote, paraphrasing the president. "This was when the bombing would begin."

Stamped "extremely sensitive," the five-page memorandum, which was circulated among a handful of Blair's most senior aides, had not been made public.

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