Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Sir Ivor Roberts

The British ambassador to Rome calls President Bush the "best recruiting sergeant" bin Laden has.

The British ambassador to Rome, Sir Ivor Roberts, caused uproar in Italy yesterday after he accused President George W Bush of being the "best recruiting sergeant" for al-Qa'eda.

His private comments were leaked in the Italian press yesterday and caused consternation at the Foreign Office, which said they "did not reflect government policy".

But British officials said Sir Ivor would at most receive a verbal rebuke, as he was speaking "under Chatham House rules".

Chatham House, the Royal Institute for International Affairs, holds meetings under a privacy rule that allows comments to be reported as long as the identity of the speaker is protected.

But Corriere Della Sera in Milan one of Italy's most prestigious newspapers, broke the confidentiality of the Pontignano conference, an annual gathering outside Siena attended by ministers, officials, academics and journalists from Britain and Italy.

Participants said Sir Ivor vented his anger at US policy after the gathering heard that most Europeans would favour Mr Bush's Democratic challenger in the November presidential election, Senator John Kerry.

"Al-Qa'eda would vote for the re-election of President Bush. It regards President Bush as the best recruiting sergeant ever," participants quoted Sir Ivor as saying.

Sir Ivor said last night, through the Foreign Office: "The remarks as reported did not reflect my personal view."


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