Goldsmith: I Said UN Ruling Was Vital Eight Months before War; Attorney General Tells Iraq Inquiry of His Doubts over Legality of Conflict

The Evening Standard (London, England), January 27, 2010 | Go to article overview

Goldsmith: I Said UN Ruling Was Vital Eight Months before War; Attorney General Tells Iraq Inquiry of His Doubts over Legality of Conflict


Byline: Paul Waugh Deputy Political Editor

LORD GOLDSMITH today told the Iraq inquiry that he made clear to Tony Blair eight months before the war that specific United Nations backing was needed to topple Saddam Hussein.

The former attorney general, who changed his legal position on the eve of the conflict, said his advice in the summer of 2002 was seen by Mr Blair as not "terribly welcome". Even after the UN passed a resolution giving Saddam a final chance to disarm, Lord Goldsmith stuck to his line that a further explicit mandate was needed for war.

He warned Downing Street of his stance and rang to complain about "Chinese whispers" in Whitehall that he was beginning to back a US-led invasion.

Lord Goldsmith said he disagreed with the White House and US lawyers over their view that they could bypass the UN Security Council if Saddam failed to disarm. He also revealed for the first time that he had been briefed by intelligence chief John Scarlett in September 2002 that Iraq did not represent an imminent threat to the West.

"The position in relation to chemical and biological weapons was that they existed, but that they would not be used first. They would be used in retaliation to an attack," he said.

The inquiry has heard how Lord Boyce, the chief of the defence staff, warned Lord Goldsmith that he needed his legal support before any troops could be deployed.

Lord Goldsmith, who is said to have faced pressure from No 10 to change his line, explained today how he shifted his position towards backing the war.

He said that his "provisional" position against war was made clear repeatedly throughout 2002.

Although he warned Downing Street that he wanted his views registered, "sometimes afterwards you wondered if that's the way everyone was acting".

Lord Goldsmith said that it was on 27 February 2003 -- nearly four weeks before the war -- that he shifted to saying that a second UN resolution was not essential. He told Mr Blair's advisers at a Downing Street meeting that day.

In a sign of his irritation with No 10, he said his secret advice was passed to UN ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock and to then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw without his knowledge.

Earlier, Lord Goldsmith said that he met Will Taft, the legal adviser to the US State Department, in May 2002.

They did not discuss the legal basis for attacking Iraq "in any detail" but the Attorney General followed up the meeting with a letter. He told the inquiry: "I did it of my own volition because I knew that the Prime Minister was going to see President Bush in the United States. I knew that one of the topics of conversation at least was going to be the Iraq issue... And I didn't want there to be any doubt that in my view the Prime Minister could not have the view that he could agree with President Bush somehow, 'let's go without going back to the United Nations'."

"I do believe that it may have well been one of the contributing factors to the Prime Minister, to his great credit, persuading President Bush that he must go down the United Nations route." For-eign Office lawyers have revealed how Mr Straw rejected their view that invasion was contrary to international law. Today Mr Straw said there had been "different views" but the ultimate decision rested with Lord Goldsmith. "I always take advice, but ministers have to decide," Mr Straw said. "The simple truth is you get a range of advice on legal issues always. The ultimate decision was always going to be the Attorney General's.

"There was no ignorance of their advice, there were different views. …

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