Christopher Meyer, British ambassador to the US during 9/11, dies at 78

Christopher Meyer, a British diplomat who, as ambassador to the United States, served as an intermediary between Prime Minister Tony Blair and the George W. Bush administration after the September 11 attacks and the build-up to war in Iraq in 2003, died in July aged 27 78.

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

On September 11, 2001, Mr. Meyer was having lunch at the British Embassy in Washington with his former boss, former British Prime Minister John Major. They were discussing Mr. Meyer’s conversation the night before with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice about challenges for the West in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Then Mr. Meyer and Major learned that the first plane had crashed into the World Trade Center and watched the rest unfold under a locked down security level. “This world we were talking about before was nothing like what we faced the next morning,” Mr Meyer later told The Daily Telegraph.

“It was a hairy time,” added Meyer, who began his tenure in Washington in late 1997 under President Bill Clinton’s administration. “It was a very emotional moment. I felt suffocated.

Over the next 18 months, Mr Meyer was at the heart of a transatlantic war council between the Blair government and the Bush administration as Britain became the main US partner in the invasion of Afghanistan after September 11 and the escalation of the war in Iraq. . Blair broke with many European leaders in support of US claims – contradicting UN weapons inspectors – that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction.

In 2002, Britain released its own intelligence report reinforcing the Bush administration’s line that Iraq appeared to have biological and chemical weapons that could be deployed in as little as 45 minutes. Claims about Iraq’s weapons program were proven wrong after the invasion, which sparked years of war, civil conflict and regional instability that left at least 150,000 people dead, according to groups monitoring war losses.

‘I’ll be with you no matter what’: Read Blair’s secret memo of support for Bush

Mr Meyer underwent emergency heart surgery just before US-led forces entered Iraq in March 2003 and did not return as ambassador. He later came out as a skeptic of claims about the Iraqi arsenal and said he had pleaded privately to slow the march to war. But the growing ties between Blair and Bush proved to be a “great accelerator”, he told the Telegraph in 2003.

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

Mr. Meyer has worked his way glamorously through the often stuffy corridors of international diplomacy. He was an astute storyteller, favored red (and sometimes green) socks, played tennis with Rice, and enjoyed throwing lavish parties with his multilingual wife Catherine. Their friends included Hollywood power couple Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas.

“Cool kids are drifting away,” wrote The Washington Post of the Meyers’ farewell party in early 2003.

Having left the diplomatic corps soon after, he had even more to say. His 2005 book “DC Confidential” was full of asides – about camping with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and rafting with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld – but went the extra mile with some British officials. Blair, he writes, was “seduced” by American power, and many of his envoys were political “pygmies” who failed to impress their American counterparts.

Christopher John Rome Meyer was born in Beaconsfield, northwest London, on February 22, 1944. A few weeks earlier, his father, a Royal Air Force Flight Lieutenant, had been lost on a mission from the World War II over the Aegean Sea. His mother joined the war effort and Mr Meyer was sent north from Leicester to live with his grandmother, seeing his mother at weekends.

Mr Meyer joined the UK Foreign Office a year after earning a degree in the history of the University of Cambridge in 1965. Postings in Europe and London followed, including analysis of the Soviet Union in the Foreign Office and as spokesman for Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe from 1984 to 1988 .

Meyer was in the United States for six years until 1994, on a one-year sabbatical at Harvard University and then in various envoy roles, including trade policy. He left diplomacy in 1994 to become spokesman for Major’s conservative government from 1994 to 1996.

He was given the post of ambassador to the United States – one of the crown jewels of British diplomacy – at a time when America was riding an economic wave and Britain was rebranding itself as “Cool Britannia”. . Above all, Mr Meyer had to keep his hand on the tiller, with tasks such as keeping London abreast of the latest developments in the revelations about President Bill Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

He did his duty. Clinton was time-limited from another run for the White House. Mr Meyer wondered how Bush – then a possible candidate – would fit in with Blair. He then sought out Texas Governor Bush in 1998 at the Governor’s mansion in Austin and had a 40 minute conversation. “Bush admitted that apart from Mexico he knew little about international affairs and would do well to broaden his experience,” Meyer wrote in an official report of the meeting.

Between 2003 and 2009 he was Chairman of the UK Press Complaints Commission, which deals with complaints about media intrusions on privacy, including the royal family. Then he hosted several television series, including 2006’s “Mortgaged to the Yanks”, chronicling post-war American loans to Britain, and “Getting Our Way”, a 500-year history of British diplomacy based on its 2009 book of the same name.

He kept a running commentary on global affairs and UK politics on his @sirsocks Twitter account. He was knighted in 1998.

“DC Confidential”, however, made the most noise. A former deputy prime minister, John Prescott, called Mr Meyer a ‘red-socked fop’ and joined others in calling for him to be punished for telling insider stories about UK leaders . But audiences loved his stories, including the way Major sometimes complained about the media coverage before he even put his pants on.

“If the shakers of society are divided between insiders and outsiders, Sir Christopher Meyer is more of an insider than a scampi warm in his shell,” wrote British author Jasper Gerard in The Sunday Times.

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

For a decade her ex-husband had refused to let their two sons return to Britain after 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 created the organization Pact (Parents and Abducted Children Together), recruiting Hillary Clinton as honorary president.

Complete information about the survivors was not immediately available.

Laylle’s court battle was also what brought her closer to Mr Meyer. A “swirling courtship,” he later said. They married at a registry office the day before he left for Washington to serve as ambassador.

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

Comments are closed.