Goldsmith cut doubts out of legal advice

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Indy Politics

Caveats contained in Lord Goldsmith's advice to Tony Blair had been stripped out by the time the Attorney General informed the Cabinet that the war on Iraq would be legal.

Caveats contained in Lord Goldsmith's advice to Tony Blair had been stripped out by the time the Attorney General informed the Cabinet that the war on Iraq would be legal.

His advice to the Prime Minister had been hedged with doubts. He had warned Mr Blair, on 7 March 2003, it would be "safer" to obtain a second UN resolution.

But on 17 March he told the Cabinet and Parliament that authority to use force against Iraq existed from the combined effect of UN Resolutions 678, 687 and 1441. "All of these resolutions were adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter which allows the use of force for the express purpose of restoring international peace and security."

However, ten days earlier, he said: "The language of resolution 1441 leaves the position unclear and the statements made on adoption of the resolution suggest there were differences of view within the[Security] Council as to the legal effect of the resolution."

He added: "I remain of the opinion that the safest legal course would be to secure the adoption of a further resolution to authorise the use of force."

That was not what Mr Blair wanted to hear. Lord Goldsmith was called to an informal meeting at No. 10 with Lord Falconer, then a junior home office minister but an old and trusted legal friend of Mr Blair, and Sally Morgan, the Prime Minister's political fixer.

Ten days later, when Lord Goldsmith delivered the terse two-page advice to the Cabinet, his doubts had gone. He reminded the Cabinet that resolution 678, passed at the time of Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, allowed military force.

He said: "A material breach of Resolution 687 revives the authority to use force under Resolution 678. In Resolution 1441, the Security Council determined that Iraq has been and remains in material breach of Resolution 687, because it has not fully complied with its obligations to disarm under that resolution."

Ten days earlier, Lord Goldsmith said: "The argument that the resolution of 1441 alone has revived the authorisation to use force in resolution 678 will only be sustainable if there are strong factual grounds for concluding that Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity. In other words, we would need to be able to demonstrate hard evidence that of non-compliance and non-cooperation."

In his statement rushed out last night after the leak, he made it clear that he had asked for, and obtained, an assurance from the Prime Minister that Saddam Hussein was still building up his WMD arsenal.

In his statement to the Cabinet and Parliament, he said without qualification: "The Security Council in Resolution 1441 gave Iraq "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations" and warned Iraq of the "serious consequences" if it did not.

However, it was far from "plain" that Iraq had failed to comply. The UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said on 7 March that Saddam's weapons were being dismantled. Mr Blix said last night: "I never doubted the good faith of the Government but I think it did have a lot to do with the loyalty to the US and the UK Government wishing to keep the bridge between Europe and the US."

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