Tony Blair and Iraq: some texts

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BBC Newsnight, 6 February, 2003  Jeremy Paxman and Tony Blair

JEREMY PAXMAN: … Will you give an undertaking to this audience, and indeed to the British people that before any military action you will seek another UN Resolution, specifically authorising the use of force.

TONY BLAIR: We’ve said that that’s what we want to do.

JEREMY PAXMAN: But you haven’t given an explicit commitment that those are the only circumstances under which British forces will be used.

TONY BLAIR: I haven’t but what I’ve said is this – those are the only circumstances in which we would agree to use force except for one caveat that I’ve entered.  And I’ll explain exactly why I’ve done this. If the inspectors do report that they can’t do their work properly because Iraq is not co-operating there’s no doubt that under the terms of the existing United Nations Resolution that that’s a breach of the Resolution. In those circumstances there should be a further Resolution.   If, however, a country were to issue a veto because there has to be unanimity amongst the permanent members of the Security Council. If a country unreasonably in those circumstances put down a veto then I would consider action outside of that.


But Prime Minister, this is, you say, all about a man defying the wishes of the United Nations. You cannot have it both ways.  If one of the permanent five members of the Security Council uses its veto and you, with your friend George Bush, decide somehow that this is unreasonable, you can’t then consider yourself absolutely free to defy the express will of the Security Council. What’s it for otherwise?

TONY BLAIR: First of all, let me make two points in relation to that. Firstly you can’t just do it with America, you have to get a majority in the Security Council.   Secondly, because the issue of a veto doesn’t even arise unless you get a majority in the Security Council. Secondly, the choice that you’re then faced with is this. If the will of the UN is the thing that is most important and I agree that it is, if there is a breach of Resolution 1441 which is the one that we passed.   If there is a breach and we do nothing then we have flouted the will of the UN.

JEREMY PAXMAN: We have flouted the will of the UN.

TONY BLAIR: If we don’t act in those circumstances. Look …

JEREMY PAXMAN: Are you saying there’s already an authorisation for war?

TONY BLAIR: No, what I’m saying is this. In the Resolution that we passed last November we said that Iraq, it’s actually interesting to look at the Resolution. Iraq had what was called a final opportunity to comply. The duty of compliance was defined as full co-operation with the UN Inspectors. The Resolution then goes on to say “any failure to co-operate fully is a breach of this Resolution and serious consequences i.e. action, would follow”. Now, we then also put in that Resolution that there will be a further discussion in the Security Council. But the clear understanding was that if the inspectors do say that Iraq is not complying and there is a breach of that resolution, then we have to act.  Now if someone comes along and says, OK I accept there’s a breach of Resolution 1441 but I’m issuing a veto I think that would be unreasonable. Incidentally I don’t think that’s what will happen. I think that we will, if the inspectors do end up in a situation where they’re saying there is not compliance by Iraq then I think a second resolution will issue.

FEMALE: Do you not agree that most of Britain don’t want us to act alone without the United Nations, and do you not agree that it’s important to get France, Germany and Russia on board with support to help us?

TONY BLAIR: Yes I do. I agree with that. That’s what I’m trying to get. So —

JEREMY PAXMAN: Why not give an undertaking that you wouldn’t go to war without their agreement.

TONY BLAIR: Because supposing one of those countries – I’m not saying this will happen, I don’t believe it will incidentally. But supposing in circumstances where there plainly was a breach of Resolution 1441 and everyone else wished to take action, one of them put down a veto. In those circumstances it would be unreasonable.

Then I think it would be wrong because otherwise you couldn’t uphold the UN. Because you’d have passed your Resolution and then you’d have failed to act on it.

JEREMY PAXMAN: And who are we to say it’s “unreasonable” as you put it?

TONY BLAIR: You say that, if in circumstances where the inspectors – not us – have come back to the UN and said we can’t do our job. Now look – I think it’s a perfectly simple way of putting this thing and incidentally, I don’t believe we’ll get to the stage of vetoes and so on. I think we’ll be in the position that you’re talking about. Now the reason I wanted this to go down the UN path last year. I mean, in the summer people were thinking you were about to start the war.  Myself and other people said, no, we’ve got to take this back to the United Nations and go through the UN route. And I think we will be in circumstances where the UN passed the second Resolution and I take it in the sense from what you’re saying I think this is where the majority of people are. Is that if the UN did pass a second Resolution people would support it.

LAURA SEWELL: I’d like to know if the UK and the US just ignore the UN, just go ahead with war without a UN Resolution. How can you expect any other country to listen to the UN in the future?

TONY BLAIR: Well, that comes back to the point that we’re making. The first thing is that it would be odd to say that we’d ignored the UN since –

LAURA SEWELL: What if you go against a UN Resolution, are you not –

TONY BLAIR: We mustn’t go against the UN Resolution.

SEWELL: If you go without the UN Resolution.

TONY BLAIR: The point that I’m making is this. There are only one set of circumstances. I mean the reason I won’t give the absolute undertaking that Jeremy was asking me to give, is because of this one set of circumstances where Resolution 1441, the one that has been passed, where everyone’s agreed on. If that is breached and the inspectors say, no I’m sorry we can’t do our job and in those circumstances the Resolution 1441 effectively says well then a second Resolution issues. If someone then at that point vetoes wrongly, what do we do?

FEMALE: It’s only you that thinks it’s wrong, like George Bush thinks that they’re doing that unreasonably.

TONY BLAIR: No, no –

FEMALE: It’s the point of the veto, not that that can happen in that sort of situation.

TONY BLAIR: What happens is that there are 15 members of the Security Council, there’s five permanent members and the five permanent members have got the veto. The other ones don’t. Now, the issue of a veto only arises if we’ve got a majority of people on the Security Council with us, so there’s not – Britain and America that would be doing this on our own in any event.


BBC Newsnight, 21 April 2005  Jeremy Paxman and Tony Blair :

Paxman: Did you see the Foreign Office legal advice which said military action against Iraq would be ‘illegal without a further UN resolution’?

Blair: No, I had the attorney general’s advice to guide me. But again this thing has been built in to, you know, a –

Paxman: You didn’t see that Foreign Office advice saying that an invasion would be illegal without a second UN resolution?

Blair: No, because I had the attorney general’s advice.

Paxman: You didn’t see it?

Blair: Yes, I didn’t see it. But I had the attorney general’s advice, and the attorney general made it absolutely clear that provided we could show that there were breaches of the United Nations resolutions …

Paxman: The attorney general is a political appointment, Prime Minister. Shouldn’t you have seen the Foreign Office legal advice?

Blair: But the attorney general’s advice is the advice he gives us as the law officer. He acts in an independent way in doing that.


Blair: Look, I want to make this point to you because you can go on, over and over and over, about these events that have happened. In the end, I had a decision to make back in March 2003. We had 250,000 UK and US troops there; we had Saddam not in compliance with UN resolutions. I tried desperately hard to get a second UN resolution. I couldn’t get one. Now I had a decision to make as to whether to leave Saddam there, in breach of UN resolutions, and end up in a situation with the international community humiliated and him emboldened, or to remove him. I decided to remove him. Now, you can go through these issues about my integrity, my character, the legal advice – because the legal advice, actually, the legal issue, was exactly the same as the political issue – or you can accept that in the end a decision had to be taken; there was no middle way, there was no fence to sit on. I took that decision. Now, I know people strongly disagreed with it. I’m sorry. In the end, I had to take the decision as prime minister that I thought was right for the country, and I did so. This was not an easy decision to take; it was a hard decision. … I took the decision I thought was right, and if I had not taken that decision, then what? You’d have Saddam Hussein and his sons still running Iraq; you wouldn’t have 8 million Iraqis going out voting at the polls; you wouldn’t have change spreading across the Middle East as it is.


House of Commons, 25 Feb 2003 : Column 124

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): To those who say we are rushing to war, I say this: we are now 12 years after Saddam was first told by the UN to disarm; nearly six months after President Bush made his speech to the UN accepting the UN route to disarmament; nearly four months on from resolution 1441; and even now, today, we are offering Saddam the prospect of voluntary disarmament through the UN. I detest his regime—I hope most people do—but even now, he could save it by complying with the UN’s demand. Even now, we are prepared to go the extra step to achieve disarmament peacefully. …

… There is one issue on which I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. He said that it would be preferable for the disarmament of Iraq to take place by means of the UN route. I agree: that is exactly why we have tried to use the UN route. With respect, however, the question is this: if disarmament cannot happen by means of the UN route because Saddam Hussein is not co-operating properly, then what? We shall be left with a choice between leaving him there, with his weapons of mass destruction, in charge of Iraq—the will of the UN having therefore been set at nothing—and using force.


Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): Every day, particularly in the American press, it seems that a report emerges about how the Americans will administer Iraq, and which particular general will do so, after the war is over. Will the Prime Minister assure me that he has not been party to any such agreements and that he agrees that the consequence of taking the UN route is that Iraq, after the war, will be administered by the United Nations until a democratic state can be set up there?

The Prime Minister: Again, the point that my hon. Friend makes is entirely right and justified. All I can say to him is that no decisions have yet been taken on the nature of how Iraq should be administered in the event of Saddam’s regime being displaced by force. I said earlier that I thought that the role of the UN had to be well protected in such a situation. The discussions that we are having on that matter are proceeding well. When we have reached conclusions and decisions, we can announce them so that people can discuss them. …

Mr. Duncan Smith: I asked earlier—as a number of hon. Members have done—about contingency plans for government if military action takes place in the event of Saddam Hussein being deposed. Will the Prime Minister now clear up some of that confusion? First, will he say whether contingency plans for future government are being discussed and formulated right now between members of the UN and the US and UK Governments? I understand that Kofi Annan has described those arrangements to members not just of the Security Council, but of the General Assembly, so will the Prime Minister share with the House and for the benefit of the British people what such contingency plans may well entail, so that they can secure in their minds whether there are not just short-term plans, but long-term plans as well?

The Prime Minister: Such contingency plans are being discussed. The reason why I have not given the details of those discussions is that they are not yet concluded. There is no point in us speculating about them before their conclusion, but, yes, they are being discussed among members of the UN, with the key allies. I would like to make it clear that whatever disagreements there are—for example, among European countries at the moment—it is still important, when all this is done, that we try to reach the broadest common agreement in the UN as to what the nature of any future regime in Iraq may be if it comes to conflict and, in particular, how we make sure that there is the proper humanitarian provision for people in Iraq.


Friday 7 March 2003

PMOS afternoon briefing – 6 March 2003

Briefing from the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman on: Iraq, Smallpox and EU Structural and Cohesion Fund.


Asked if there was any significance in the Prime Minister’s use of the plural in stating in his MTV interview today that he would still consider going ahead with military action against Iraq without a second Resolution if ‘countries’ applied an unreasonable veto , the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the UK’s position had not changed. He pointed out that in the rest of the Prime Minister’s reply to the question that had been put he had also underlined once again his belief that a second Resolution would be achieved. This view was based on the fact that the UN had passed Resolution 1441 unanimously last November and it was clear that the Security Council would want to uphold that decision. Put to him that the Prime Minister had in the past only talked in the singular about one country’s ‘unreasonable veto’ and whether his departure from that today was significant, the PMOS suggested that journalists were in danger of ‘over-parsing’ hypotheticals. He reiterated the point that the Prime Minister believed a second Resolution would be upheld. Consequently, questions relating to the situation should that fail to happen were hypothetical.

Put to him that today’s change of phraseology was not indicative of a hypothetical situation inasmuch as the Prime Minister had spelled out in his recent Newsnight interview that he would be willing to go to war without a second Resolution in the face of an unreasonable veto (singular), the PMOS resolutely rejected the premise of the question and repeated that the issue was indeed hypothetical because of the Prime Minister’s strong belief that a second Resolution would be passed. Challenged that this view, of itself, was hypothetical, the PMOS said that it was what the Prime Minister believed. The argument had to be taken in stages. The first stage was a belief that a second Resolution would be passed. What happened after that was hypothetical.  [….]

Asked to confirm categorically that the Prime Minister had not deliberately set out to refer to ‘countries’ in the plural, the PMOS said he was making the point that the Prime Minister was not signalling any change in his position, as his entire answer showed. He continued to believe that a second Resolution would be passed. Anyone who thought he had changed his position was ignoring reality. Pressed as to whether the word ‘countries’ had been a slip of the Prime Ministerial tongue, the PMOS said that he already answered the question. If people were reading any significance into the Prime Minister’s choice of words and honestly believed that he thought he was not going to achieve a second Resolution, then they were sorely mistaken. Put to him that he wasn’t answering the question being put, the PMOS repeated that nothing had changed in the substance. The Prime Minister continued to believe that he would get a second Resolution. Put to him that the fact that three countries were now threatening to use their Security Council vetoes was a perfectly adequate explanation for the Prime Minister’s change to plural usage today, the PMOS said that it was important for people to recognise that no one was voting for or against anything today.


Excerpts of TV interview by President Chirac to TF1 and France2,  10 March 2003

THE PRESIDENT – It’s not for you or me to say whether the inspections are effective, whether Iraq is sufficiently cooperative. In fact, she isn’t, I can tell you that straightaway. …  But it isn’t for you or for me to decide that, that’s for the inspectors to whom the UN has entrusted the responsibility of disarming Iraq to say. The inspectors have to tell us: “we can continue and, at the end of a period which we think should be of a few months” – I’m saying a few months because that’s what they have said – “we shall have completed our work and Iraq will be disarmed”. Or they will come and tell the Security Council: “we are sorry but Iraq isn’t cooperating, the progress isn’t sufficient, we aren’t in a position to achieve our goal, we won’t be able to guarantee Iraq’s disarmament”. In that case it will be for the Security Council and it alone to decide the right thing to do. But in that case, of course, regrettably, the war would become inevitable. It isn’t today. …

We unanimously chose the path of disarming him. Today, nothing tells us that this path is a dead end and, consequently, it must be pursued since war is always a final resort, always an acknowledgement of failure, always the worst solution, because it brings death and misery. And we don’t consider we are at that point. That’s why we are refusing to embark on a path automatically leading to war so long as the inspectors haven’t told us: “we can’t do any more”. And they are telling us the opposite….

That led to the proposal of a new resolution setting an ultimatum. To start with, there was talk of 17 March, then of a possibility of a British amendment to postpone the date of the ultimatum a bit, it’s of little consequence. In other words, we move from a course of action involving the pursuit of the inspections in order to disarm Iraq to a different one consisting of saying: “in so many days, we go to war”.

Q. – And you don’t want that?

THE PRESIDENT – France won’t accept it and so will refuse that solution.

Q. – If need be, she will threaten to exercise her veto? (…) That way you will scupper the resolution.

THE PRESIDENT – I repeat: France will oppose that resolution. Now what does that mean? There are fifteen members of the Security Council. Five permanent members and ten members who change every two years. For a resolution to be adopted, it must have a majority of nine members. So the first scenario which is today, this evening, the most probable, is that this resolution won’t get a majority of nine members.

Q. – The Americans are saying the opposite. Colin Powell thinks he will get it.

THE PRESIDENT – I’m telling you what I feel. I firmly believe, this evening, that there isn’t a majority of nine votes in favour of that resolution including an ultimatum and thus giving the international green light to war.

Q. – In other words, France wouldn’t need to use her veto?

THE PRESIDENT – In this scenario, that’s exactly right. In this scenario, France will, of course, take a stand. There will be nations who will vote “no”, including France. Some will abstain. But, in any case, there won’t, in this scenario, be a majority. So there won’t be a veto problem.

Q. – And if the opposite happens?

THE PRESIDENT – Then, the second scenario: what I believe this evening to be the views of a number of people change. If this happens, there may indeed be a majority of nine votes or more in favour of the new resolution, the one authorizing war, to put things simply. If that happens, France will vote “no”. But there is one possibility, what’s called exercising a veto, it’s when one of the five permanent members – the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France – votes “no”, and then even if there is a majority in favour of it, the resolution isn’t adopted. That’s what’s called exercising a veto.

Q. – And, this evening, this is your position in principle?

THE PRESIDENT – My position is that, regardless of the circumstances, France will vote “no” because she considers this evening that there are no grounds for waging war in order to achieve the goal we have set ourselves, i.e. to disarm Iraq.


TV interview Chirac-Amanpour, 16 March 2003

PRESIDENT CHIRAC: France is not pacifist. We are not anti-American either. We are not just going to use our veto to nag and annoy the US. But we just feel that there is another option, another way, another more normal way, a less dramatic way than war, and that we have to go through that path. And we should pursue it until we’ve come [to] a dead end, but that isn’t the case. …

AMANPOUR: Do you believe that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction; for instance, chemical or biological weapons?

PRESIDENT CHIRAC: Well, I don’t know. I have no evidence to support that… It seems that there are no nuclear weapons – no nuclear weapons program. That is something that the inspectors seem to be sure of.
As for weapons of mass destruction, bacteriological, biological, chemical, we don’t know. And that is precisely what the inspectors’ mandate is all about. But rushing into war, rushing into battle today is clearly a disproportionate response


House of Commons, 18 Mar 2003 : Hansard Column 767

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): The Prime Minister says that the French have changed position, but surely the French, Russians and Chinese always made it clear that they would oppose a second resolution that led automatically to war. [Interruption.] Well they publicised that view at the time of resolution 1441. Is it not the Prime Minister who has changed his position? A month ago, he said that the only circumstances in which he would go to war without a second resolution was if the inspectors concluded that there had been no more progress, which they have not; if there were a majority on the Security Council, which there is not; and if there were an unreasonable veto from one country, but there are three permanent members opposed to the Prime Minister’s policy. When did he change his position, and why?

The Prime Minister : First, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong about the position on resolution 1441. It is correct that resolution 1441 did not say that there would be another resolution authorising the use of force, but the implication of resolution 1441—it was stated in terms—was that if Iraq continued in material breach, defined as not co-operating fully, immediately and unconditionally, serious consequences should follow. All we are asking for in the second resolution is the clear ultimatum that if Saddam continues to fail to co-operate, force should be used. The French position is that France will vote no, whatever the circumstances. Those are not my words, but those of the French President. I find it sad that at this point in time he cannot support us in the position we have set out, which is the only sure way to disarm Saddam.

___________________________________________________ :

Myth 6: “The French position is that France will veto no whatever the circumstances. Those are not my words, but those of the French President.” (Tony Blair, House of Commons, 18 March 2003)

Fact: President Chirac has consistently argued the US and UK misrepresented his position. Consider what Chirac actually said: “My position is that, regardless of the circumstances, France will vote “no” because she considers this evening that there are no grounds for waging war in order to achieve the goal we have set ourselves, i.e. to disarm Iraq.” It seems Tony Blair, not for the first time, was being very selective with the information available to him – the words “this evening” were never included in the British Government’s accounts. For the record, on 10 March 2003, Chirac did make it clear that he supported war if, after a few months, the inspectors said Iraq was not co-operating, “In that case, regrettably, the war would become inevitable.”

Also, the idea that a veto can somehow be ‘unreasonable’ is completely fictitious. Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, told Tony Blair in his legal advice, “I do not believe that there is any basis in law for arguing that there is an implied condition of reasonableness which can be read into the power of veto conferred on the permanent members of the Security Council by the UN Charter. So there are no grounds for arguing that an ‘unreasonable veto’ would entitle us to proceed on the basis of a presumed Security Council authorisation.”


The Independent, 22 July 2004  Letters :

From Sir Brian Barder

Sir: Historians will be grateful to Clare Short for pressing the Prime Minister in the Iraq debate on Tuesday on why, having failed to get the Security Council’s agreement to a second resolution authorising the use of force against Iraq, he nevertheless committed Britain forthwith to joining the US in its attack on Iraq , thus preventing the UN inspectors from continuing their work for the few more weeks or months that Hans Blix had asked for.

Mr Blair asserted, surprisingly, that he would have preferred to give Blix more time, but that continued inspection could only have been effective if supported by a further UN resolution containing an ultimatum with a deadline for Iraqi compliance, failing which force would be used. But, said Mr Blair, “certain countries” (clearly meaning France) had opposed any ultimatum in any circumstances: and since there would have been no point in a resolution without an ultimatum, he had given up on the UN and concluded that there was no alternative to using force.

Ms Short correctly pointed out that this misrepresented what had happened: a majority in the Council, including France, Russia and Germany and most of the non-permanent members, wanted to give Blix more time, but were not prepared to leave it to the US and the UK to make the judgement on whether Iraq had failed to comply and to decide when force should be used, decisions that were for the Security Council in the future.

The issue was not whether there should be an ultimatum, as the Prime Minister claimed, but whether the Security Council should give Washington and London carte blanche, before Blix had had a chance to complete his inspection, to decide whether and when to launch an attack on Iraq, without a further opportunity for the Council to consider that decision in the light of Blix’s eventual findings.

That “automaticity” was what the US and UK were demanding, and it’s not at all surprising that the great majority of Council members wouldn’t agree. The transcript of the television interview with President Chirac on 10 March 2003 in which he set out France’s position, does not support the accusation later made by our ministers that France would have vetoed the use of force in any circumstances: France, like most of the other members of the Council, was not prepared to agree to authorise the use of force at that time, before Blix had had time to complete the inspection, nor to delegate that decision then and there to Washington and London.

It seems important that Mr Blair’s version of these crucial events, on which the illegality of the war largely hinges, should not be left uncorrected on the historical record.

London SW18
The writer was a member of HM Diplomatic Service, 1965-94


Extracts from Sir Patrick Wright’s letter in The Independent, 15 July 2004

I am surprised that neither Lord Hutton nor Lord Butler drew particular attention to the e-mail published in Lord Hutton’s report, in which the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell, virtually complained that the first draft of the infamous dossier did not adequately support the case for going to war – a complaint that must at least have created some “subconscious pressure” on the intelligence community to do better. I also find it curious that the Butler report states, as a matter of fact, that the dossier “was not intended to make the case for a particular course of action in relation to Iraq”.

Surely Number 10 must have been aware of the pressures on President Bush, both from his senior advisers and from the Israelis, to remove Saddam Hussein by military action? Bob Woodward’s and other insiders’ accounts of the Bush administration make it clear that Messrs Cheney and Rumsfeld, among others, had been pressing from the early months of the administration to target Iraq – pressure which the President initially resisted in favour of concentrating on Afghanistan.

Sadly, the events of 11 September increased this pressure, given the unfounded allegations – still widely believed in the United States, but well dismissed by the Butler report – that Saddam Hussein’s links with al-Qa’ida made him in some way responsible for the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

Ministers repeatedly assured us, in the months before the invasion, that “no decisions had been taken”. It was, however, clear to many of us that decisions had indeed been taken in Washington; and indeed that those decisions were irreversible once coalition troops had started to gather in Kuwait and the Lower Gulf. (As an aside, I can record that I was twice assured by a British minister at that point that we would not join the Americans in an invasion if we failed – as of course we did – to get a second resolution in the United Nations Security Council.)

The trouble for Tony Blair was that the United States administration was blithely quoting at least four different cases for going to war, including the need to change the Iraqi regime. Not only was this unacceptable to the British government’s lawyers; the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, had assured Parliament that it was no part of HMG’s policy to change other people’s governments.

This tends to be forgotten when ministers argue, as the Prime Minister did on Wednesday, that “the wider world is a better and safer place without Saddam.” This may be true. But was it worth the expense of lives on all sides to achieve that?

There will no doubt be criticism that the Butler report is a whitewash, as indeed there was over the Franks report after the Falklands. As a former colleague who worked closely with Robin Butler in Harold Wilson’s private office, and later when he was Cabinet Secretary, I find his report as balanced and fair as I would expect. Its weakness – which is no fault of the author’s – is that it does not go into the legal or political case for the Iraq war. Nor does it explore the extent to which advice was sought or received from our diplomatic posts, or indeed from the Foreign Secretary himself.

Both the Hutton report and, to a lesser extent, the Butler report have revealed evidence and argument about intelligence which would have been unthinkable in the early 1980s. But the crucial missing evidence is still what diplomatic and political advice was put forward by officials, and what legal advice was conveyed by the Attorney General. The Prime Minister tried on Wednesday to give the impression that the arguments are now closed. I do not believe they are.

Lord Wright was chairman of the JIC, 1982-4, and head of the Diplomatic Service, 1986-91


Note:  Emphasis added throughout.