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Home World News Washington Post World News Christopher Meyer, British envoy to US during lead-up to Iraq war, dies...

Christopher Meyer, British envoy to US during lead-up to Iraq war, dies aged 78


Christopher Meyer, a British diplomat who served as ambassador to the United States as an intermediary for Prime Minister Tony Blair and the George W. Bush administration following the 9/11 attacks and the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2003, died July 27 at age 78.

His death was confirmed in a tweet by the British Ambassador to the United States, Karen Pierce, but no cause was given in official British statements. British media reported that Mr Meyer suffered a stroke at a holiday home in Megève, France.

On September 11, 2001, Mr. Meyer was having breakfast in the British Embassy in Washington with his former boss, ex-British Prime Minister John Major. They discussed Mr Meyer’s conversation with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice the previous evening about the challenges facing the West in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Then Mr. Meyer and Major learned about the first plane to hit the World Trade Center and watched the rest unfold under lockdown-level security. “That world we talked about earlier was nothing like what we were faced with the next morning,” Mr Meyer later told the Daily Telegraph.

“Those were hairy days,” added Mr. Meyer, who began his tenure in Washington in late 1997 during President Bill Clinton’s administration. “It was a very emotional time. I felt choked.”

For the next 18 months, Mr. Meyer was in the thick of a transatlantic war council between the Blair and Bush administrations as Britain became the primary US partner in the post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan and the build-up to the war in Afghanistan. Iraq . Blair broke with many European leaders to back US-led claims — contradicting the UN weapons inspectors — that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction.

Britain released its own intelligence report in 2002 to bolster the Bush administration’s claim that Iraq appeared to have biological and chemical weapons that could be deployed in just 45 minutes. Claims about Iraq’s weapons program were found to be false after the invasion, which marked the beginning of years of warfare, civil conflict and regional instability that cost at least 150,000 lives, according to war casualties monitoring groups.

‘I’ll Be With You Whatever’: Read Blair’s Secret Memo to Bush

Mr. Meyer underwent emergency heart surgery just before US-led troops entered Iraq in March 2003 and did not return as ambassador. He later cast himself as a skeptic about the claims about Iraq’s arsenal and said he personally advocated slowing the advance to war. But the growing ties between Blair and Bush proved a “great accelerator,” he told the Telegraph in 2003.

“My presence in Washington wouldn’t have made any difference,” he said. “In my experience of the first Gulf War and of Kosovo and the war in Afghanistan, when the war starts, diplomacy takes a back seat.”

Mr. Meyer cut a glamorous job through the often crowded aisles of international diplomacy. He was an artful storyteller, loved red (and sometimes green) socks, played tennis with Rice, and loved throwing lavish bashes with his multilingual wife Catherine. Their friends included Hollywood power couple Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas.

“The cool kids are leaving,” The Washington Post wrote of Meyers’ farewell party in early 2003.

After leaving the diplomatic corps shortly afterwards, he had more to say. His 2005 book “DC Confidential” was full of casual remarks — about camping with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and whitewater rafting with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld — but was relentless with some British officials. Blair, he wrote, was “seduced” by American power, and many of Blair’s envoys were political “pygmies” who failed to impress American counterparts.

Christopher John Rome Meyer was born in Beaconsfield, northwest of London, on February 22, 1944. Weeks earlier, his father, a lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, had become lost during a World War II mission over the Aegean Sea. His mother rejoined the war effort and Mr. Meyer was sent north to Leicester to live with his grandmother, where he saw his mother on weekends.

mr. Meyer joined the British Foreign Office one year after earning a history degree from: the University of Cambridge in 1965. Posts in Europe and back in London followed, including analysis of the Soviet Union at the Foreign Office and from 1984 to 1988 as spokesman for Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe.

Mr. Meyer spent six years in the United States until 1994, taking a one-year sabbatical from Harvard University and then serving as an envoy in various positions, including dealing with trade policy. He left diplomacy in 1994 to become spokesman for Major’s conservative government from 1994 to 1996.

He was given the ambassadorship to the United States – one of the crown jewels of British diplomacy – at a time when America was on an economic wave and Britain was renaming itself ‘Cool Britannia’. Mr. Meyer usually just had to keep his hand at the helm, with odd jobs like keeping London abreast of the latest twists and turns in revelations about President Bill Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

He has done his homework. Clinton was term-limited from another White House run. Mr. Meyer wondered how Bush—a potential candidate at the time—would fit in with Blair. He visited the then governor of Texas in 1998 at the governor’s mansion in Austin and had a 40-minute conversation. “Bush admitted that other than Mexico, he didn’t know much about international affairs and would do well to expand his experience,” Meyer wrote in an official report on the meeting.

Between 2003 and 2009 he was chairman of the British Press Complaints Commission, which deals with complaints of media interference in private lives, including the royal family. He then presented several TV series, including ‘Mortgage to the Yanks’ in 2006, which recounted US post-war loans to Britain, and ‘Getting Our Way’, a 500-year history of British diplomacy based on his 2009 book of the same name .

He kept an ongoing commentary on world affairs and British policy on his Twitter account @sirsocks. He was knighted in 1998.

However, “DC Confidential” caused the most uproar. A former deputy prime minister, John Prescott, labeled Mr Meyer a “red-socked fop” and joined others calling for him to be punished for spreading insider stories about British leaders. But the public loved his stories, including how Major sometimes complained about the press coverage even before he had his pants on.

“When the shakers of society are divided between insiders and outsiders, Sir Christopher Meyer is more insider-like than a langoustine snuggled in its shell,” British author Jasper Gerard wrote in the Sunday Times.

His first marriage, to Françoise Winskill, with whom he had two sons, ended in divorce. In 1997, while briefly serving as ambassador to Germany, he married Catherine Laylle Volkmann, a half-French, half-Russian former commodities broker. At the time, she was involved in an international campaign for the rights of divorced and divorced parents to access their children when taken across borders.

For ten years, her ex-husband had refused to let their two sons return to Britain from a holiday in his native Germany. A German court ruled that the children should remain in Germany, but as young adults they were reunited with Laylle. In 1999, she founded the Pact (Parents and Abducted Children Together) organization, recruiting Hillary Clinton as its honorary president.

Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

Laylle’s lawsuit was also what brought her together with Mr. Meyer. A “whirlwind courtship”, he later said. They were married at the office of a registry office the day before he was due to leave for Washington to take up the post of ambassador.

“I think of two people standing hand in hand on the top diving board,” he told the Daily Mail in 2005, reflecting on his marriage and arriving in Washington in less than 24 hours. “We close our eyes, jump and hit the water. It was sink or swim.”

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