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British Weapons Expert Was Concerned About Wording of Government Report, Tape Discloses - 2003-08-13

Before he died, a British weapons expert told a journalist that he was troubled by the wording of a government report that raised alarms about Iraq's weapons threat before the war. VOA London Correspondent Michael Drudge has the latest on the British inquiry into the death of weapons scientist David Kelly.

A tape recording of Mr. Kelly's voice was heard on the third day of testimony at the inquiry in London.

On the tape, Mr. Kelly is heard discussing a pre-war government document detailing the threat of Iraq's mass-destruction weapons. British Broadcasting Corporation journalist Susan Watts made the tape on May 30.

Mr. Kelly said he was troubled by the prominence given in the report to a claim that Iraq could deploy chemical and biological weapons in 45 minutes. Mr. Kelly hinted that he had doubts about the 45-minute claim, which according to earlier testimony came from a single Iraqi source.

But Mr. Kelly told Ms. Watts he saw no willful dishonesty by the government in highlighting the 45-minute threat. And he said he had no knowledge that Prime Minister Tony Blair's communications advisor, Alastair Campbell, had ordered that the 45-minute claim be inserted.

The tape appeared to contradict testimony on Tuesday by another BBC reporter, Andrew Gilligan, who said Mr. Kelly told him Alastair Campbell had been responsible for insisting on inclusion of the 45-minute threat.

The BBC and the Blair government have been locked in a bitter dispute since Mr. Gilligan reported on May 29 that the government overruled intelligence chiefs and deliberately misled the public about the Iraqi threat in the document published last September.

Mr. Blair denies any wrongdoing and Mr. Campbell has demanded the BBC retract the story. Both men intend to testify at the inquiry, which Mr. Blair ordered following Mr. Kelly's apparent suicide last month.

Mr. Kelly was found dead three days after he testified before a parliamentary committee probing the Iraq weapons controversy. He had earlier been identified by his employer, the Ministry of Defense, as the source for Mr. Gilligan's report. Mr. Kelly denied it, but the BBC confirmed he was the source after his death.

The controversy around Mr. Kelly's death plunged the Blair government into its worst crisis in six years.