A leaked transcript of talks between President George W. Bush and José Maria Aznar, former Spanish prime minister, has cast fresh light on the diplomatic wrangling that preceded the Iraq war.

Speaking in February 2003, a month before the invasion, Mr Bush told his Spanish counterpart that US forces would be in Baghdad by the end of March regardless of whether the United Nations authorised the use of force.

He also talked about punishing countries that failed to support a UN resolution backing the war and outlined an offer by Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi leader, to go into exile in return for $1bn, which he said the US would reject.

The White House on Thursday declined to comment in response to questions about the transcript, which was first reported this week in El País, the Spanish newspaper, but did not challenge the accuracy of the report.

“We have to get rid of Saddam,” Mr Bush told Mr Aznar in a meeting at the president’s Texas ranch, according to the transcript.

“In two weeks we will be ready militarily. We will be in Baghdad at the end of March.”

The meeting in question came as the US and its allies, including Spain and the UK, were lobbying the UN Security Council for a second resolution authorising military action if Saddam failed to disarm. (MORE)


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