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Tony Blair pressured Kuwait to buy UK artillery as payback for Gulf War support, documents reveal

Tony Blair, UK's former prime minister in Singapore, on 18 November 2021 [Wei Leng Tay/Bloomberg via Getty Images]
Tony Blair, UK's former prime minister in Singapore, on 18 November 2021 [Wei Leng Tay/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, pressured Kuwait into an arms contract for the UK's latest artillery as a form of payback for supporting the Gulf country during its invasion by Iraq in 1990, newly-released documents have revealed.

In files recently released by the UK's National Archives in Kew, internal briefing notes from the late 1990s – years after the US-led coalition pushed Iraqi forces out of Kuwait and devastated Saddam Hussein's influence – show that London believed that it was "due the award of a significant defence equipment contract in recognition of its defence of Kuwait".

Blair then repeatedly attempted to lobby Kuwaiti Crown Prince, Sheikh Sa'ad Al-Sabah, between 1998 and 1999, holding a meeting with him in January of the latter year in which he urged the Crown Prince to purchase the UK's AS90 howitzer, in an attempt to prevent it from choosing the US's M109 howitzer.

According to a restricted memo sent by No.10's private secretary, Philip Barton, to his colleague, Tim Barrow, at the Foreign Office at the time, "The Prime Minister raised the AS90. It was an effective weapon, although he knew the US had offered the M109. He hoped very much that all the support we had given Kuwait would be remembered."

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Barton added that "The Crown Prince said that the price of the AS90 was very high. The Prime Minister pointed out that it would do the job properly. The Defence Minister said that they would take the state of relations with the UK into account."

Internal briefing notes from the day before Blair's visit to Kuwait also show that the Prime Minister was informed that the government was "frankly disappointed" to have "won so little Kuwaiti defence business since end of [the] Gulf war". The notes insisted that the UK had been a "loyal friend to Kuwait over many years".

Other attempts by the Prime Minister include a letter to the Crown Prince three months prior to the meeting, in which Blair described the AS90 howitzer as "the best 155mm gun in the world today". He also reportedly called in on Sheikh Sa'ad during a brief stopover on a flight home from South Africa.

Despite those efforts, they proved unsuccessful as, two months after Blair's visit, Kuwait announced its aim to purchase the US artillery.

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