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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bush Spoke of Attacking Arab News Channel, British Tabloid Says - New York TimesNovember 23, 2005

Bush Spoke of Attacking Arab News Channel, British Tabloid Says - New York TimesNovember 23, 2005
Bush Spoke of Attacking Arab News Channel, British Tabloid Says

LONDON, Nov. 22 - 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.

Mr. 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 Tuesday in The Daily Mirror. The tabloid said it was quoting from a leaked government memo said to contain a transcript of a conversation by Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair at the White House on April 16, 2004.

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

Mr. Blair's office said it never talked about leaked documents.

Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, told The Associated Press via an e-mail message, "We are not interested in dignifying something so outlandish and inconceivable with a response."

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 previous American insistence that the 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 Parliament member, would appear in court next week to face charges under the Official Secrets Act in relation to the memo.

Mr. Keogh is accused of passing it to Mr. O'Connor, thus committing a "damaging disclosure."

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

The article drew comment from opponents of the Iraq war, including Peter Kilfoyle, a former defense minister in the Labor government.

"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," he said.

Sir Menzies Campbell, foreign affairs spokesman of the opposition Liberal Democrats, said, "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."

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