AWB briefing 'a crackpot conspiracy'

The Australian
Nov. 25, 2006

SUGGESTIONS the Federal Government told wheat exporter AWB of plans to invade Iraq a year before the military action were crackpot conspiracy theories, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has said.

The Cole commission, which is investigating $290 million in kickbacks paid by AWB to the regime of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, has released documents revealing that an Australian diplomat told a former AWB chairman of the invasion plans in 2002, more than a year before it took place.

But Prime Minister John Howard and Mr Downer both have dismissed the diplomat's comments as purely his own opinion at the time.

Last night, Mr Downer said any other interpretation was a conspiracy theory.

"The old crackpot conspiracy theories," Mr Downer told ABC television's Lateline.

"The Government didn't make any decision until 2003 to participate in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime and the military buildup ... wasn't even until later in 2002."

The diplomat, John Dauth, is now Australia's High Commissioner to New Zealand.

Mr Downer said the Government did not brief Mr Dauth, Australia's then UN ambassador, at any time.

"If it's an accurate reflection of what he said, I've no idea whether it was or wasn't and it's really immaterial whether it was or it wasn't, it certainly wasn't a view based on any briefing, some secret conspiracy that the Australian Government had been involved in with the Americans, of course not."

The Cole report will be handed to Governor-General Michael Jeffery tomorrow at 2.30pm (AEDT).

Mr Downer said the report would be tabled in parliament next week and, he said, "everyone will be able to read it, so all of the theories that people have, whether they're conspiracy theories, whether they're accurate, inaccurate, wrong, lies, whatever they are, that will all be transparent for people to see ... and I'm not getting into any speculation about it late this week".

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