| Tony Blair at a news conference in the presidential residence in Seoul. (Reuters)
London/Seoul, July 20 (Reuters): Britain’s Tony Blair ruled out resigning over the suicide of a defence expert whom the BBC identified today as its main source for an accusation that the government exaggerated the case for war in Iraq.
“You’ve got to have broad shoulders in this job... I’ve got them,” the Prime Minister said on an Asia tour overshadowed by the death of mild- mannered scientist and former UN weapons inspector David Kelly.
Fuelling a blame game that has dominated UK politics, the BBC confirmed Kelly was “the principal source” for its bombshell allegation that London hyped intelligence over Iraq’s weapons to justify an unpopular war.
“The BBC is profoundly sorry that his involvement as our source has ended so tragically,” BBC head of news Richard Sambrook said in a carefully-worded statement.
Politicians said the BBC’s admission called its whole report into question, and Blair said he was pleased it had confirmed Kelly’s role as the source. “Whatever the differences, no one wanted this tragedy to happen,” he said.
A defensive Blair also rejected suggestions he should curtail his trip or recall Parliament from its summer break to debate what drove Kelly, 59, to slit his wrist in a woodland near his Oxfordshire home on Thursday.
Two days before, Kelly was grilled in Parliament over his role as a ministry of defence source who spoke to the author of a BBC story that Blair’s communications chief Alastair Campbell “sexed up” a September dossier on Saddam Hussein’s weapons.
The BBC allegation that Campbell exaggerated intelligence to indicate Saddam could mobilise weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes is at the centre of claims Blair misled the British public and Parliament.
Kelly’s death has left Blair, 50, facing the biggest political crisis of his six-year rule and turned a week-long foreign trip into a nightmare.
After a rapturous reception in the US for his support on Iraq, Blair heard the news about Kelly on the plane to Japan and has looked ashen-faced ever since.
In the unseemly recriminations over Kelly’s death, critics of the government say it put him under intolerable pressure in an effort to discredit the BBC report and therefore clear Campbell and Blair.
But the BBC, which had until Sunday refused to confirm whether or not Kelly was its source, is charged with heightening the media frenzy around him. His position also did not fit the BBC’s description of him as a senior intelligence source.
Kelly’s local member of Parliament, Robert Jackson, said BBC chairman Gavyn Davies and director-general Greg Dyke should quit. “If they had made this statement while Dr Kelly was alive, I believe he would still be alive,” he said.