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Did Bush have plan to bomb Al-Jazeera?

Tony Blair
Tony Blair

LONDON — The Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera urged Britain and the United States on Tuesday to investigate a British newspaper report that Prime Minister Tony Blair had dissuaded President Bush from bombing the station's headquarters in the Persian Gulf.

Bush was said to have referred to the idea of bombing Al-Jazeera's studios in Qatar, a close Western ally, according to a document quoted in The Daily Mirror. The tabloid said it was quoting from a leaked government memo said to contain a transcript of a conversation by Bush and Blair at the White House on April 16, 2004.

The Bush administration has frequently depicted Al-Jazeera's broadcasts as showing anti-American bias.

Blair's office did not comment on the reported memo, saying it never talked about leaked documents. In a statement on Tuesday referring to the British and American governments, Al-Jazeera said that "in the event that the memo is found to be accurate, it would be incumbent on them to explain their positions on statements regarding the deliberate targeting of journalists and news organizations."

Al-Jazeera also said that, if genuine, the memo would cast "serious doubts" on the Bush administration's previous insistence that the U.S. military had not intentionally made targets of the station's offices and staff in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The British news agency the Press Association said that David Keogh, a Cabinet Office civil servant, and Leo O'Connor, who worked as a researcher in the office of Tony Clarke, a British member of Parliament, would appear in court next week to face charges under the Official Secrets Act in relation to the memo.

Keogh is accused of passing it to O'Connor and thereby committing a "damaging disclosure."

According to The Daily Mirror, Clarke, the lawmaker, returned the memo to Blair's office.

The Daily Mirror article drew some sharp comment from figures including Peter Kilfoyle, a former defense minister in the Labor government, and an opponent of the Iraq war.

"If it was the case that President Bush wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera in what is after all a friendly country, it speaks volumes and it raises questions about subsequent attacks that took place on the press that wasn't embedded with coalition forces," Kilfoyle said.

Menzies Campbell, the foreign affairs spokesman of the anti-war, opposition Liberal Democrats, said the memo showed the perils of Blair's relations with the White House.

"On this occasion, the prime minister may have been successful in averting political disaster, but it shows how dangerous his relationship with President Bush has been," Campbell said.