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Blair defends move to halt Saudi arms inquiry.

Failure to have halted a corruption inquiry into an arms deal with Saudi Arabia would have had a "devastating" effect on Britain's relations with a key ally, Tony Blair said.

At his monthly Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister sought to play down suggestions of a rift with the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, over the decision to halt the investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into the deal with BAE Systems, Britain's biggest arms manufacturer.

At the time, the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, told Parliament the intelligence agencies agreed with Mr Blair's assessment that the Saudi's would sever intelligence links with the UK unless the investigation was stopped.

However, The Guardian reported that MI6 chief Sir John Scarlett had refused to sign up to a Government paper saying that the agency endorsed that view.

The paper quoted Whitehall sources as saying that MI6 and the Security Service, MI5, possessed no intelligence that the Saudi would end co-operation.

Mr Blair said: "I can absolutely assure you that there is no doubt whatever in my mind that having proceeded with this, the result would have been devastating for our relationship with an important country."
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 17, 2007
Words:193
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