LONDON (AFP) -US President George W. Bush planned to bomb pan-Arab television broadcaster al-Jazeera, British newspaper the Daily Mirror said, citing a Downing Street memo marked "Top Secret".
The five-page transcript of a conversation between Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair reveals that Blair talked Bush out of launching a military strike on the station, unnamed sources told the daily which is against the war in Iraq.
The transcript of the pair”s talks during Blair”s April 16, 2004 visit to Washington allegedly shows Bush wanted to attack the satellite channel”s headquarters.
Blair allegedly feared such a strike, in the business district of Doha, the capital of Qatar, a key western ally in the Persian Gulf, would spark revenge attacks.
The Mirror quoted an unnamed British government official as saying Bush”s threat was "humorous, not serious".
Al-Jazeera”s perspectives on the war in Iraq have drawn criticism from Washington since the US-led March 2003 invasion.
The station has broadcast messages from Al-Qaeda terror network chief Osama bin Laden and the beheadings of Western hostages by insurgents in Iraq, as well as footage of dead coalition servicemen and Iraqi civilians killed in fighting.
A source told the Mirror: "The memo is explosive and hugely damaging to Bush.
"He made clear he wanted to bomb al-Jazeera in Qatar and elsewhere. Blair replied that would cause a big problem.
"There”s no doubt what Bush wanted to do — and no doubt Blair didn”t want him to do it."
Another source said: "Bush was deadly serious, as was Blair. That much is absolutely clear from the language used by both men."
A spokesman for Blair”s Downing Street office said: "We have got nothing to say about this story. We don”t comment on leaked documents."
The Mirror said the memo turned up in the office of then British lawmaker Tony Clarke, a member of Blair”s Labour Party, in May 2004.
Civil servant David Keogh, 49, is accused under the Official Secrets Act of handing it to Clarke”s former researcher Leo O”Connor, 42. Both are bailed to appear at Bow Street Magistrates Court in central London next week.
Clarke returned the memo to Downing Street. He said O”Connor had behaved "pefectly correctly".
He told Britain”s domestic Press Association news agency that O”Connor had done "exactly the right thing" in bringing it to his attention.
The Mirror said such a strike would have been "the most spectacular foreign policy disaster since the Iraq war itself."
The newspaper said that the memo "casts fresh doubt on claims that other attacks on al-Jazeera were accidents". It cited the 2001 direct hit on the channel”s Kabul office.
Blair”s former defence minister Peter Kilfoyle challenged Downing Street to publish the transcript.
"I hope the prime minister insists this memo be published," he told the Mirror.
"It gives an insight into the mindset of those whe were architects of the war."