Tony Blair has urged Kuwait to buy the last British artillery as a reward for supporting the country during the Gulf War, newly published reports reveal.
Blair lobbied Crown Prince Sheikh Sa’ad between 1998 and 1999, including calling him during a brief layover on a return flight from South Africa.
Internal briefings from the time show the British government believed it was ‘due to the award of a major defense equipment contract in recognition of its defense of Kuwait’ after Saddam’s invasion Hussein in 1990.
Minutes of the hastily arranged meeting in Kuwait in January 1999 reveal that Blair heeded a request from Foreign Ministry officials to talk about the AS90 howitzer, amid fears that the arms deal go to the United States and his M109.
A restrained note from Private Secretary No 10 Philip Barton to his Foreign Office colleague Tim Barrow, covering the meeting between the Prime Minister and the Crown Prince, said: ‘The Prime Minister has raised AS90. It was an effective weapon, even though he knew that the United States had offered the M109. He very much hoped that all the support we had given to Kuwait would be remembered.
“The Crown Prince said the price of the AS90 was very high. The Prime Minister stressed that he would do the job properly. The Minister of Defense said he would take into account the state of relations with the UK.
Internal briefing notes from the day before the visit, contained in files now released by the National Archives at Kew, show that Blair was told the government was ‘frankly disappointed’ to have ‘gained so little business Defense Force since the end of the Gulf War,” adding that he had been a “faithful friend of Kuwait for many years.”
Barton said Kuwait would “keep [the UK] in mind” before making a firm decision.
It was the latest in a series of attempts to woo Kuwaitis, which included a letter from Blair to the Crown Prince three months earlier in which he described the AS90 as “the best 155mm gun in the world today”. , declaring its specification superiority over the US equivalent.
Blair wrote: “This order from Kuwait is very important for the UK and for our industry at a difficult time. We look forward to your decision.
The efforts were not immediately rewarded, however, as Kuwait announced its intention to purchase American artillery two months after Blair’s visit.