The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, yesterday pinpointed for the first time security of energy sources as a key priority of British foreign policy.
Mr Straw listed energy as one of seven foreign policy priorities when he addressed a meeting of 150 British ambassadors in London.
The US and British governments officially deny that oil is a factor in the looming war with Iraq, but some ministers and officials in Whitehall say privately that oil is more important in the calculation than weapons of mass destruction.
These ministers and officials have pointed to the instability of current oil sources – the Middle East, Caspian region and Algeria – and the need for secure alternatives. Iraq has the second biggest known oil reserves in the world.
Mr Straw told ambassadors that, following a review he ordered last year, the Foreign Office drew up a list of seven medium to long-term strategic priorities, including “to bolster the security of British and global energy supplies“.
A Foreign Office source said: “I can’t say that energy is irrelevant (to the Iraq conflict) but the issue is one we would have to deal with even if Saddam was a cuddly individual.”
The Foreign Office insists that the main motivation in the confrontation is fear that Iraq has, or intends to develop, biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Mr Straw put the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism at the top of his list of priorities. The others are:
· To minimise threats to the UK such as uncontrolled migration, transnational crime and Islamic extremism;
· To maintain a stable international system based on the UN, the rule of law and multilateral cooperation;
· To promote UK economic interests in an open and expanding global economy;
· To promote democracy, good governance and development, citing as an example involvement of the G7 developed countries in helping Africa;
· To build a strong EU in a secure neighbourhood.