I threatened to resign over Iraq, says UN ambassador

Sir Jeremy Greenstock tells inquiry he doubted the legitimacy of invasion

The Iraq war was of "questionable legitimacy" because Tony Blair failed to secure public or United Nations support for military action, Britain's former ambassador to the UN said yesterday.

Sir Jeremy Greenstock told the Iraq war inquiry that the 2003 invasion was not illegal under international law but revealed that he threatened to resign in 2002 if Britain supported it without securing at least one security council resolution.

Sir Jeremy, who played a pivotal role in the failed attempt to win a further UN mandate to directly authorise military action, said he was kept completely in the dark about Mr Blair's agreement to use military force and claimed that American politicians were "decidedly unhelpful" during his efforts to secure international support. The move was vetoed by France and Russia, leading critics to claim the subsequent invasion was illegal.

Criticising the Bush administration's approach, he said: "We began to see that there was not much energy being expended in Washington on outreach, consultation and good relationships. Even before I heard of any serious action being taken to prepare for a possible attack on Iraq, I was coming to the conclusion that the United States was missing an opportunity in general global terms."

The former ambassador disclosed that he was not asked for his opinion as the then Prime Minister formulated his controversial Iraq policy. It was not until George Bush and Mr Blair met at the US President's ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002 that he realised the UK was being drawn into quite a different debate. "That discussion was not totally visible to me," he said. "I was not being politically naive but I was not being politically informed either."

Sir Jeremy believed existing UN resolutions provided "sufficient legal cover" for future action but only if Iraq was found to be in breach of its disarmament obligations. He said there were different opinions and that a "final and conclusive" verdict was never likely to be made.

But he added: "If you do something internationally that the majority of UN member states think is wrong, illegitimate or politically unjustifiable, you are taking a risk in my view.

"I regarded our participation in the military action against Iraq in March 2003 as legal but of questionable legitimacy in that it did not have the democratically observable backing of a great majority of member states or even perhaps of a majority of people inside the UK.

"There was a failure to establish legitimacy although I think we successfully established legality in the UN ... to the degree, at least, that we were never challenged in the UN or International Court of Justice for those actions."

Sir Jeremy believed war might possibly have been averted if UN weapons inspectors had been given more time in Iraq. If military action had been delayed for about six months, there would have been a better chance of securing UN support.

"It seemed to me that the option of invading Iraq in, say, October 2003 deserved much greater consideration," he said. "But the momentum for earlier action in the United States was much too strong for us to counter."

He still felt that Saddam Hussein had been concealing some illegal materials or programmes: "I still believe there is something there but it is a question of what that something is."

Although Iraq's representative at the UN told him in September 2002 that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Britain was not in a position to ascertain whether this was true.

He said the "whole saga", in terms of UK policy, was driven by the belief that Iraq had WMD and any talk from the United States of other motivations for war, such as regime change, were "unhelpful". UK policy was solely focused on disarming Iraq, he insisted. The failure to secure another UN resolution had been damaging in terms of public perceptions of the reasons for going to war.

"What we were left with by the failure of diplomacy was the US set of reasons for going to war with Iraq, not the British ones," he said.

Iraq invasion: What we've learnt

The very first 'drumbeats' of war

The idea of toppling Saddam Hussein was floated in Washington even before the attacks of September 11, 2001. "We were aware of those drumbeats from Washington," said Sir William Patey, the former head of the Foreign Office's Middle East section. But he said London refused to become involved in the discussions: "Our policy was to stay away from that end of the spectrum." After the 9/11 atrocities, Sir William asked officials to draw up options for dealing with Iraq. The list included the possibility of regime change but Britain dismissed the idea.

British backing for US

Tony Blair's government decided in 2002 it would be "a complete waste of time" to resist American plans to invade Iraq, according to Sir Christopher Meyer, who was British ambassador to Washington at the time. Equally it was "taken for granted" in the White House that Britain would join the US in its military action. He suggested Mr Blair could have "signed in blood" Britain's support during a visit to George Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002.

Saddam's weapons

The Foreign Office received intelligence 10 days before the March 2003 invasion that Iraq's chemical and biological weapons may have "remained disassembled", former senior official Sir William Ehrman revealed. There were also repeated warnings to ministers that the intelligence coming from Iraq was "sporadic and patchy". A suggestion that aluminium tubes, which can be used in nuclear weapons, had been found in Iraq was included at the last moment in the September 2002 dossier making the case for war after comments made by Dick Cheney, the former US vice-president, on television.

The war's legality

Sir William Patey said officials dismissed the idea of an invasion in 2001 because it had "no basis in law".

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's ambassador to the United Nations in 2003, said he believed the military action to be legal under international law. But he thought it would have had "questionable legitimacy" as it lacked majority backing within the UN – and among British voters. Sir Jeremy warned the Foreign Office he was ready to resign unless there was at least one fresh Security Council resolution justifying military action.

The aftermath

Sir Christopher Meyer said he warned Mr Blair of the need for more clarity on post-war planning as President Bush's aides were simply assuming it would be "all right on the night".

By Nigel Morris

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen