- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2004

LONDON — British agents spied on U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan “for some time” and bugged his office in the run-up to the U.S.-led war on Iraq, a former member of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Cabinet said yesterday.

Claire Short, Mr. Blair’s secretary for international development when the conflict broke out, said she knew “absolutely” that British spies had been instructed to carry out operations within the United Nations on officials such as Mr. Annan.

The prime minister, faced with the threat of yet another scandal at home over his conduct before, during and after the Iraq war, described Mrs. Short’s bombshell comments in a British Broadcasting Corp. interview as “totally irresponsible.”

But he would neither confirm nor deny her accusations.

In New York, a spokesman for Mr. Annan said the reported spying, if true, would be illegal and urged the British government to stop the practice.

“We would be disappointed if this were true,” U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said. “Such activities would undermine the integrity and confidential nature of diplomatic exchanges. Those who speak to the secretary-general are entitled to assume that their exchanges are confidential.”

Mrs. Short resigned from the Blair Cabinet last May after furiously denouncing the war in Iraq and remains relentless in her opposition to the prime minister’s way of governing.

In the BBC interview, she said she had seen transcripts of Mr. Annan’s conversations with various leaders.

“In fact,” Mrs. Short said, “I have had conversations with Kofi in the run-up to war, thinking, ‘Oh, dear, there will be a transcript of this, and people will see what he and I are saying.’”

It was not the first claim of spying on U.N. missions ahead of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Earlier this month, Mexico’s former ambassador to the United Nations said it was common knowledge that the United States spied on U.N. delegations in the weeks leading up to the war.

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