Richard North, 05/10/2004  

Amazingly, despite the Conservative Party conference, other things continue to happen in the world. In the Washington Times today, for instance, there is another update on the oil-for-food scandal, on which there are further hearings scheduled.

It has emerged that not only did Saddam misuse the programme, creaming off something like $6 billion from the UN-supervised programme – on top of an estimated $4 billion he made from oil smuggling – but the funds were used provide arms for the Iraqi armed forces.

But what is also emerging from an investigation being carried out by Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican and chairman of the Government Reform subcommittee on national security, is that the programme – flawed from the start, and obviously so – was kept in place partly through the efforts of the governments of Russia, France and China.

These three countries blocked US efforts within the United Nations to stop abuse of the program, an internal staff memorandum written at the time complaining that: "As the program developed, it became increasingly apparent the French, Russians, and Chinese had much to gain from maintaining the status quo."

The actions of the Russians and Chinese are unsurprising and, so for that matter, are the actions of the French but, at a time that the RAF was helping to police the no fly zones, and it is worth remembering that France – unlike the other two countries – was supposed to be our ally, and was our EU partner, pledged to co-operate "in a spirit of mutual solidarity" on foreign policy issues.

This serves as a timely reminder. It cannot be said too often that this is the country with which Mr Blair wants greater ties, within the framework of the EU constitution.

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