| Tony Blair during the press conference in London. (Reuters)
London, Feb. 26 (Reuters): Britain spied on UN chief Kofi Annan before the Iraq war, former minister Clare Short said today, threatening a fresh crisis for Prime Minister Tony Blair and drawing an angry response from the UN.
Blair declined to address the claim, beyond saying British security services acted within domestic and international law. But the UN declared any such operation would be illegal. “We want this action to stop if indeed it has been carried out,” UN chief spokesman Fred Eckhard said. “It undermines the secretary-general’s conduct of business with other leaders. It is, therefore, not good for the UN’s work and it is illegal.” Britain’s UN ambassador talked to Annan on Blair’s behalf.
Short’s allegation comes a day after Britain dropped charges against a translator who admitted leaking a top-secret US document seeking London’s help in bugging UN members in the run-up to the war.
The former aid minister, who resigned after the war but was in government during the period when London and Washington sought UN authorisation for military action, said secretary-general Annan’s office had been specifically targeted.
“In the case of Kofi’s office, it was being done for some time,” Short told BBC Radio.
“I read some of the transcripts of the accounts of his conversations.”
Blair reacted angrily to his now frequent critic, saying she was undermining the intelligence services and British security as it faced a real threat from ruthless Islamic militants.
“The fact that those allegations were made... is deeply irresponsible,” he told a news conference in his Downing Street home. “We are going to be in a very dangerous situation as a country if people feel they can simply spill out secrets or details of security operations, whether false or true.”
Iraq has become a political nightmare for Blair. Ten months after Saddam Hussein was toppled, none of the banned weapons Blair claimed Iraq had primed for use has been found.
The Premier’s public trust ratings have slumped and many in his Labour Party feel betrayed to the point of mutiny.
Bob Worcester of pollsters MORI said Blair remains favourite to win a third term at next year’s election but with a majority of 60-80 in the 659-seat parliament, down from 161 now.
That could leave him at the mercy of a hardcore of Labour MPs so opposed to the war they will now fight him on any front.
“Until the boil of the truth about Iraq is lanced, the Prime Minister can never put this behind him,” Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said.
Yesterday, state prosecutors said they had insufficient evidence to prove 29-year-old translator Katharine Gun broke the Official Secrets Act although she freely admitted leaking a memo which she said revealed a US plot to spy on UN missions.
At the time of the memo, Britain and the US were desperately trying to persuade wavering members of the Security Council to back war.