- The Washington Times - Monday, November 14, 2005

Diplomatic tempest

The controversy over the publication of the memoirs of the former British ambassador intensified over the weekend, as Christopher Meyer broke his silence and defended his book, “D.C. Confidential,” against criticism from leading members of the British political class.

Mr. Meyer was well-known in government and social circles during his six years in Washington, where he helped guide British policies in the months leading to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

In his memoirs, excerpted last week in British newspapers, he criticized Prime Minister Tony Blair for being “seduced” by President Bush and for failing to stall the march to war. Mr. Meyer also referred to Mr. Blair’s top Cabinet ministers as “pygmies.”

Mr. Meyer last week refused to confront critics who said his memoirs violated confidential conversations, but he defended his book on Sunday in a British Broadcasting Corp. television interview.

“My instinct is ‘publish and be damned’ because I do think there are areas of activity in foreign policy and in government where it is right to shine the light,” Mr. Meyer said.

He said many of the private conversations he had with top U.S. officials such as Paul Wolfowitz, who was deputy secretary of defense at the time, had been leaked to the British media before excerpts of his book were published in London’s Guardian and Daily Mail newspapers.

“Those who have read the whole book, as opposed to some of the excerpts in the newspapers, will see that I’m extremely careful to protect sources in Washington,” Mr. Meyer said.

He also was careful to protect a source close to Britain’s Prince Charles who said the heir to the throne chose to go shooting in Scotland instead of attending a memorial service in New York to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, in which about 100 British subjects died.

On Saturday, three members of the House of Lords accused Mr. Meyer of abusing the confidentiality between political leaders and civil servants.

His memoirs “inhibited frank conversation” within the upper levels of the government, said Lord Robin Butler, a former Cabinet secretary. Lord Robert Armstrong, a former head of the civil service, complained that Mr. Meyer had “breached the trust” between political leaders and ambassadors.

Mr. Meyer’s memoirs make it “far harder to establish that relationship of trust and confidence, which is at the heart of the relationship in government between ministers and civil servants,” Mr. Armstrong said.

Lord Michael Heseltine, a former deputy prime minister, called for Mr. Meyer to resign from his position as chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, a private organization that deals with accuracy in the media.

Dutch lessons

The Dutch ambassador, whose country is legendary for battling the sea, plans to travel to New Orleans later this month to observe the damage from Hurricane Katrina and offer advice on the reconstruction of the levees.

“My country’s history and direction has been determined as much by water and floods as by anything else. Learning to live with the water is a matter of survival for us,” Ambassador Boudewijn J. van Eenennaam said, as he invited Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, to visit the Netherlands.

The ambassador, at a press conference last week, noted that two-thirds of his country is below sea level and that the Dutch rely on a series of dikes to hold back the North Sea.

Mr. van Eenennaam, who plans to visit hurricane-damaged areas of the Gulf Coast, added, “We have much in common with the Gulf region.”

In 1953, the Netherlands suffered a flood worse than that caused by Katrina, destroying the Dutch levee system. The flood killed nearly 1,900 people and destroyed 50,000 homes, the ambassador said.

Mrs. Landrieu will lead a Louisiana delegation to the Netherlands next month.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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