The Foreign Office was thrown into turmoil yesterday after the British ambassador to Rome, Sir Ivor Roberts, described President George Bush as 'the best recruiting sergeant ever for al-Qaida'.
His comment, made at a closed conference of about 100 British and Italian diplomats, politicians and journalists in Tuscany, was leaked to an Italian newspaper, provoking embarrassment in London.
According to one of those present, Sir Ivor had been taking part in a discussion on which candidate Europeans would back if they had a vote in the US election. The ambassador said they would vote for Mr Kerry but some people would want Mr Bush, not least al-Qaida.
'If anyone is ready to celebrate the eventual re-election of Bush, it's al-Qaida. Whereas it is clear that the Palestinians hope that a Kerry victory will unblock the situation,' he said.
Sir Ivor is obviously wrong. Recruiting sergeants have to attend for duty.