Britain’s former top UN official testifies to Iraq war inquiry on diplomatic failures

By David Stringer, AP
Friday, November 27, 2009

Key British diplomat testifies to Iraq inquiry

LONDON — Britain’s top diplomat at the United Nations in the build up to the 2003 Iraq war told an inquiry Friday that attempts to win international authorization for the invasion were deliberately undermined by the United States.

Jeremy Greenstock testified before Britain’s inquiry into the war that President George W. Bush had no real interest in winning a U.N. resolution, which Britain and others had hoped would provide global backing for the conflict.

The ex-diplomat, who later served in Iraq as Britain’s envoy after the invasion, said that serious preparations for the war had begun in early 2002 and that the United States was little troubled by Britain’s hopes of forming an international consensus to justify military action.

“The United States was not proactively supportive of the U.K.’s efforts and seemed to be preparing for conflict whatever the U.K. decided to do,” Greenstock wrote in a written statement to the inquiry. He said the U.S. stance was “decidedly unhelpful to what I was trying to do in New York.”

The investigation is the most sweeping probe yet into the war and will seek evidence from former Prime Minister Tony Blair, military officials and spy agency chiefs. The comprehensive study won’t apportion blame, or establish criminal or civil liability — but offer recommendations in the hope that mistakes won’t be repeated in the future.

Greenstock said that in his opinion the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was legal, a view rejected by critics who say it violated international law because there was no second U.N. resolution specifically authorizing the use of force.

But he acknowledged the unpopular war may have lacked legitimacy because the decision to invade did not have broad-based public support in Britain and in many other countries.

“It did not have the democratically observable backing of the great majority of member states, or even perhaps of the majority of people inside the U.K.,” he said.

Greenstock said that British officials worried about Bush’s private assurances to Blair. Bush insisted he supported work to try to win the support of key allies, including France, Russia and Germany. Attempts to agree on a resolution failed in March 2003 — days before the invasion of Iraq began.

“President Bush’s words on this subject in public were rather less warm and specific than those he had used with the prime minister in private,” Greenstock wrote in the statement.

Greenstock told the inquiry that the U.N. process also was dented because the Bush administration failed to use sympathy for the United States in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to develop stronger relationships with international partners.

“It was the policy of the Bush administration to seek allies only when they needed allies for a particular piece of policy. If they could do it on their own, they would do it on their own,” Greenstock testified to the panel.

He told the five-person inquiry panel that — with plans for the invasion accelerating in late 2002 — he had threatened to resign his post if no international backing was agreed.

Christopher Meyer, Britain’s former ambassador to the U.S., told the inquiry Thursday that he believed Bush and Blair had used a meeting at Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002, to “sign in blood” an agreement to take military action on Iraq — a year before Parliament approved Britain’s involvement.

Greenstock said that following the Crawford meeting, he realized Britain “was being drawn into quite a different discussion.” But, like Meyer, he said the talks were secretive and the conversation between the British and top U.S. officials were not disclosed to diplomats.

“That discussion was not totally visible to me,” Greenstock said. “I was not being politically naive, but I was not being politically informed either.”

Greenstock said that, by early 2003, the U.S. was unwilling even to consider delaying the Iraq invasion until October 2003, which would have allowed U.N. weapons inspectors more time to search for evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction — the key justification for the war. No such weapons were ever found.

“The momentum for earlier action in the United States was much too strong for us to counter,” he said in his written statement.

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