U.S. allies rejects U.N. secretary-general’s claim that Iraq war was illegal
September 16, 2004
LONDON (AP) – U.S. allies Britain and Australia on Thursday rejected a claim by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the war in Iraq was “illegal” because Washington and its coalition partners never got Security Council backing for the invasion.
Prime Minister Tony Blair’s official spokesman reminded reporters that Britain’s attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, had found before the war that Britain was acting legally, citing three U.N. resolutions he said justified the use of force against the Saddam Hussein regime.
Britain was a leading supporter of the U.S.-led March 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam, which followed months of bitter debate in the 15-nation Security Council.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard – a staunch U.S. supporter who defied widespread public anger to participate in the invasion – also dismissed claims that the military action violated international law.
“There had been a series of Security Council resolutions and the advice we had (was) that it was entirely legal,” Howard told Perth radio station 6PR.
Annan told British Broadcasting Corp. radio on Wednesday that the U.S.-led invasion did not conform to the United Nations charter.
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The charter allows nations to take military action with Security Council approval, such as during the Korean War and the 1991 Gulf War.
But in 2003, in the buildup to the Iraq war, the United States dropped an attempt to get a Security Council resolution approving the invasion when it became clear it would not pass.
“I hope we do not see another Iraq-type operation for a long time – without U.N. approval and much broader support from the international community,” Annan told the BBC.
At the time, Annan had underlined the lack of legitimacy for a war without U.N. approval, saying: “If the United States and others were to go outside the Security Council and take unilateral action they would not be in conformity with the charter.”
On Wednesday, after being asked three times whether the lack of council approval meant the war was illegal, Annan said: “From our point of view and the 1/8U.N. 3/8 charter point of view, it was illegal.”
France, which led the opposition to the war, steered clear of the debate Thursday.
Asked to respond to Annan’s comments, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous said simply: “You know our position.”
“We had the opportunity at the time to express ourselves very clearly,” Ladsous said.
British Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt said she also disagreed with Annan.
“There have always been different views on that matter and … of course I respect his views on this matter and I regret that we disagree with them,” Hewitt told BBC radio, adding the important thing now was to help Iraqis achieve “a safe, secure, democratic Iraq.”
Japan’s top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda, said his country, also a U.S. supporter in Iraq, would seek clarification about Annan’s remarks.
Annan also said that the wave of violence engulfing Iraq puts in doubt the national elections scheduled for January.
There could not be “credible elections if the security conditions continue as they are now,” he told the BBC.
On Tuesday, Annan’s top envoy to Iraq, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, said the security situation will be the overriding factor in determining how many U.N. international staffers can return to Iraq. There is now a ceiling of 35 U.N. staff in the country.
Qazi spoke Tuesday at a Security Council meeting called to discuss Annan’s latest report on Iraq, which warned that violence could make it more difficult to create the conditions for successful elections. Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has said he is determined to hold the election by Jan. 31.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Danforth, all but ruled out any delay beyond the Jan. 31 deadline for elections in Iraq’s interim constitution.
“Let there be no doubt: We are committed to this timetable,” he told council members Tuesday.
The Australian prime minister praised the humanitarian work of the United Nations but said the organization was too often “paralyzed” by the need for consensus among its members, pointing to the crisis in Sudan.
“The body is paralyzed. It is not doing much and the reason is you can’t get agreement among the major powers,” Howard said.