Live Blog – 27 November 2009

Friday 27 November 2009

(There was one evidence session today, scheduled for 10:00 – 13:00.)

Topic: Developments in the United Nations

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, British Ambassador to the United Nations, 1998-2003

This morning’s hearing, as it happened

This morning’s witness was Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former UK ambassador to the UN.

13.00 Session ends. To reconvene at 2.00 on monday with Sir David Manning.

12.58 Chilcot asks if there are any further points. It is important to say that he UN is fundamentally a reasonable place if you put reasonable arguments that are backed with evidence, you will get a reasonable response. But it fails to deal with big power divisions. Iraq was continuing to defy the UN over 12-13 years. We were trying to defend the integrity of the UN.

12.55 Going back to 2001, did a policy of containment remain possible and could it have been continued without going to war? It was my view that the containment regime would have continued to erode, through sanctions etc. The inspectors, given more time, might have failed to find wmd but there would have been different discussions down the line. There are discussions that we haven’t had. The role of Israel, Iran, the psychology of Saddam. Why did Saddam continue to pretend that he had wmd. In all the discussions, there wasn’t a single country that was speaking up for Iraq. Everyone felt that they were in breach of resolutions.

12.53 Lyne asks what was the effect of the huge attempt at diplomacy from Blair down. Quite considerable. There was significant disappointment when I announced that the draft resolution would not be put to a vote. There was a less frosty atmosphere than might have been expected. More sadness than anger. French were unhappy but co-operation did not stop. During military action we dealt with next round of oil-for-food then new resolution in May. I understood that the UK was given a great deal of credit, but back to the noises off… In the fact that the UK was part of the operation, we remained able to talk to each other, wheras if the US had gone about it unilaterally, there would have been a huge division. In a subsequent lunch, there was a very reasonable discussion about how the UN might be involved in Iraq. That would not have been possible if we had not tried as hard as we did.

12.47 Lyne what extent were personal or political self-interests in play in the opposition. No evidence of personal self-interest. France didn’t think it was justified. The suspicion was that the US was going to war anyway. I think it is important that I say to this inquiry what i think the results of the UKs efforts were to go the last mile. Lyne asks to what extent commercial interests were in play. Greenstock had no direct evidence of that but that there were reports to that effect. evidence of certain companies from certain countries profiting.

12.43 Gilbert asks about a statement from Blair that progress had been made towards forging a consensus. Greenstock says that that there was some progress but like an irritating puzzle, when you got one ball into place, another ball slipped out. Blair might have made a less optimistic statement a few days later.

12.40 Did the various appearances by ministers affect the process? To some extent, yes. Such as when Powell complained of being ambushed by de Villepin. One fundamental piece of diplomacy that came through was that the French, US, Russians and Germans were absolutely determined to prevent a unilateral use of force by the UN.

12.38 Did you regard Chirac’s comments as showing that nothing would be achieved? It was unhelpful because it was made before we had put down a resolution. It made the middle six wonder why they would bother if there was going to be a veto. It did rather undercut the ground we were on.

12.35 Freedman points out that Blix doubted Powell’s claims. Were US and UNSCOM diverging? I don’t think they were ever converging. There were some occasionally tough arguments. Blix was always unclear about whether there were wmd. It wasn’t Blix who disagreed with Powell, it was El Baradi, who brought up the Uranium forgeries. Greenstock said that the UK intelligence had its own intelligence. Powell was quite impressive, but no smoking gun.

12.31 Freedman asks if it ever occurred to him that there might be no smoking gun, ie. no wmd. What about Blix’s views? Greenstock thinks there might still be something there. More emphasis should be put on Iraqi concealment skills. Raises Powell’s UN SC presentation. The inspectors were beginning to put together some very careful explanations of what what left and what needed to be accounted for. Straw read the inspectors document very carefully. Concluded that concealment is so good that only getting in there and stopping the process will work. This bridges the gap between the previous UK and US position that we needed more time.

12.29 Did the US support regime change with the UK concentrating on wmd. Greenstock says that we were concerned with wmd but with the failure of diplomacy (and Blair’s prior commitment) we were dragged onto the territory of the american’s reasons for going to war.

12.28 Prashar asks to what extent did the attempt to get a further resolution undermine 1441. I thought there were two fundamental reasons for new resolution. a) to pressure Saddam to leave b) to remove doubts about legality. The US was after some other agenda. This put more focus on b) and did undermine the legitimacy of 1441.

12.26 Prashar asks about timing? There were two aspects, how long was it reasonable to give the inspectors and what about the military preparations. The US were concerned about the military aspects others on the other issue. Everyone agreed they were not co-operating in the way they should have been. Could we get the US to agree a delay. Prashar asks about what Greenstock said to Marr about a possible six month delay. Was the military tail wagging the diplomatic dog? Yes. The UK had agreed that it would go to war with the US if that proved necessary. Doesn’t agree that you can’t start a war in the summer. I didn’t feel I could say in my arguments to the Security council that the inspectors had had more time. Looking increasingly unlikely that there would be a smoking gun. I thought finding one was an essential part of our strategy. Prashar: could we have averted military action? Possibly, but there was more than a 50% chance that it would be unresolved in October. Failure to give time questions legitimacy. I had to put down a seven day ulitmatum that members of the SC thought was an insult. Q: you really wanted diplomacy to be given a longer chance? Yeah, I’m a diplomat. You will have to establish whether president Bush… he had to consider whether there was a chance of delaying till the autumn.

12.15 How did we come to decide that the UN resolution was not to be achieved. There were draft resolutions making different points. There were noises about the timing of war preparations. There was a possible proposal from the middle six for an ultimatum. But if became increasingly clear that a resolution would not be possible because there were not votes or because there would be vetoes from other members of the security council.

12.12 How close did we get to achieving a resolution and when was it abandoned? I never felt that we got close to nine votes. There were signs from the middle six that they might be interested in an ultimatum. Straw and others thought may have eight and that two more from Latin American would make ten. But I never believed this. There was also the possibility of a smoking gun. We had statements from the French, the Chinese and others that was there a wmd find their attitude would change.

12.09 Did Blix give reports of different tones at different times? Doesn’t think this is fair to Blix. At end of Jan Blix gave a statement that the US seized on (wrongly) as a material breach. Blix got cross. On 14 February, he went the other way and (played down) the significance of the missile engines found. US got cross. But Blix was tougher in private on Iraq, based on US reaction.

12.07 Asked about Six tests. Did they come from elsewhere than the UK? No they were the product of a series of discussions with Blix around his clusters. We came up a time constraint and thought an ultimatum, with conditions, was a good idea.

12.04 Were the Americans interested in a new resolution? Interesting point… yes. I don’t have first hand evidence of this but I understand that there was a discussion between Rice and Manning in which she said a second resolution was necessary for US interests, with the US public opinion in doubt. Yet I also understand from my understanding of events that Bush said to Blair on 31 January. “we don’t need a second resolution but we understand that you do”.

12.03 But Chilcot says that going for a new resolution has disadvantages, including implicitly undermining 1441.

12.01 What were objectives in January 03? First to keep up pressure on Iraq to give up wmd without a fight. Second, we were also concerned to establish the safest possible legal grounds for force, if necessary. We thought we had it in 1441 but this was contested. New resolution would be unequivocal.

12.00 At Chilcot’s suggestion, a tour de table of SC views. US, UK Spain and Bulgaria at one end. Six in the middle, who wanted the SC to remain in control. Didn’t want to be squashed by Permanent members.

11.55 Greenstock says that 1441 allows anyone to report non compliance to the SC. Back to previous question, if you are proposing a resolution, you have the tactical opportunity in your hands. If you put a draft resolution “into blue”, (type) no-one else can put on in on the same issue. After the Dec 02 Iraqi declaration, the US was arguing that this was a material breach but the UK was trying strongly to put them off, arguing on the “and” vs “or” 1441, which required other non compliance. No resolution in blue until Feb 03 but watching like a hawk to protect UK interests.

11.51 Chilcot asks, what were you trying to go in seeking a further resolution. Greenstock says that there was a strong desire in London for disarmament of Iraq. In practical politics, this would mean that there was such a consensus against iraq that there would be a political change in Iraq. The other issue was that there was such a strong preparation for military action that this was complicating positions, eg from France.

11.39 Ten minute break

11.31 Gilbert asks of effect of compromises. What about lack of specific references to further resolutions? That was not negotiable, according to my instructions. The final discussions were ministerial. Asked by Freedman, Greenstock says there was no tension between me and London although there were tensions everywhere (else). There was initial resistance among permanent 5 SC members. At first Russians were more oppositional, then the French took the lead in insisting that the UN should remain in charge. When it came to negotiating the finer details, there was no suggestion from London that what I was doing was not wrong. I invented the idea of “final opportunity” as a way of getting round French objection to “material breach”. Lawrence asks what prompted Greenstock to consider position in Oct 02? Noises off were that voices in US were telling the UK that we should drop the UN and get on with regime change. I didn’t think the govt would change its position but I thought it would be important to make a statement about how far I would go. I told permanent Secretary Sir Michael Jay.

11.27 What about doubts about Iraq’s wmd? No-one said that you were barking up the wrong tree, there are no wmd. The French and Russians may have had doubts about the strength of the evidence. Russians had clearest view that there might not be but did not show evidence.

Had bilateral discussion with Iraq UN ambassador 20 September 2002 and told him about UK position re contravention. He told me there were none. I took the view that he was instructed to say that. We in the UK had no way of ascertaining for certain whether this was true.

11.25 Greenstock says this was about wmd. Anything that came out of the US to a different effect was unhelpful what I was trying to do. You haven’t asked what I was trying to do up to March 2003. I was trying to enforce compliance on Iraq.

11.23 Prashar asks what were the consequences of ambiguity? Greenstock says that France went back on agreement and insisted on need for specific further resolution. (Comment – but isn’t Greenstock just saying this because he has his view of what 1441 says and can’t admit that he got it wrong, any more than others can.)

11.19 Prashar asks, wasn’t a second resolution necessary? Bush made an ad lib reference to plural resolutions after wrong speech was loaded into teleprompter. There were to be two separate (initial resolutions) but 1441 was successfully negotiated. Greenstock thought there should not be a need for a further UN resolutions. He was suprised that only the Mexicans said equivocally that a new resolution was needed. France and others had to accept position they had negotiated.

11.18 Prashar refers to different views about 1441, e.g. Mexico. Greenstock says these are just views.

11.16 Prashar says we heard from Patey that the US had given up on containment. Why did they pursue the UN? Greenstock says it understood that it needed to show that it had exhausted the UN process if it wanted partners and for domestic opinion. Powell wanted the resolution to get the inspectors back in with a fall back of military action.

11.14 Prashar refers to diplomacy getting clever, in terms of getting show on the road. Greenstock says what 1441 achieved was the return of inspectors. For the UK, this was all about wmd. My instructions were to get a resolution to do two things. Get a way of getting inspections going with the back up of military action.

11.07 Prashar asks about attempt to gain legitimacy and what the trigger was. Didn’t think Syria would ever vote for what became 1441. If US going to UN was a Potemkin exercise, it would not have sought to get more than 9 (out of 15) SC votes. But Powell was prepared to compromise. French and Russians determined that no resolution would authorise force without referral back to SC. US took opposite view. Diplomacy got clever – too clever for own good. 1441 equivocal in respect of who would determine non compliance and what outcome would be. It was said that although inspectors would be main source of info on compliance, there would be other possible sources and the resolution only said that the UN would meet to discuss it, were not required to decide. After 1441, there was a drift in how the resolution should be interpreted. UK and US took absolutely literal view that SC meeting was enough but French thought this implied SC would decide.

11.03 Prashar asks about meaning of legitimate. Greenstock says there is no international supreme court. There can be different interpretations of what is and isn’t legal. Today there are different opinions about legality of war and not possible to reach conclusion. Legitimacy is a different issue, which relates to other states view in a democratic-ish UN process. Thinks inquiry might want to look at legitimacy in international relations. I regarded the military action as legal but of questionable legitimacy. We successfully established legality of 1998 and 2003 in that we were never challenged in international court or UNSC.

10.58 Prashar asks about references in statement to need for resolution and threat to resign. I regarded it as necessary to have at least one resolution because older resolutions were in context of Kuwait situation. If we were to resurrect them we needed a reaffirmation that Iraq was in material breach. Explicit statement that Iraq was in material breach. Parallel with 1998. UNSCR 1205 succeeded in establishing declaration of material breach that was then cover for military action. Wanted something similar. I wanted to make clear that if this was a Potemkin exercise, i.e with no reference to material breach, I might not be able to continue as UN ambassador.

10.56 Was the intention to set the bar too high? Not sure about US view. To try to set up a resolution that would say “Iraq is not co-operating let’s attack” was pointless. Negroponte agreed but different view coming from Washington.

10.55 Not clear if we were supposed to be arguing a tough resolution or one that would be passed?

10.51 Prashar comes back to UK/US approach to negotiating 1441. Started to discuss with US John Negroponte what a new, tougher regime would look like and how a threat of “all necessary measures” was to be incorporated. But then found that the drafting of a different resolution was going on in Washington. Everyone in US/UK was negotiating with everyone else in US/UK.

10.50 Asked by Lyne, Greenstock says he was not asked about change of policy in March 2002

10.48 Freedman: When did the Iraqis agree to return of inspectors? Kofi Annan was trying to sort out problem early summer 2002, worried that failure might give US political reason for war. But gave up because July Iraqis were up to old tricks.

10.47 Freedman suggests that problem with sanctions was that it depended on US. Greenstock says not clear to what extent US agreed with containment via UN strategy.

10.46 US failure to address smuggling complicated by regional relations.

10.44 Freedman asks what his reaction was to post-Crawford Blair speech. I wasn’t asked to give my views.

10.41 Discussion of difference between US and UK and within US? Drumbeats of military preparation from US. Agreed with “entirely natural” process of containment but other things, smuggling NFZs. Not until (heard about) Crawford meeting that I realised the UK was being drawn into a different form of discussion. I was not politically naive but not informed either. did not change my instructions at UN

10.37 What did the UK hope to achieve through 1441? Refers back to Bush at UN September 2002. Once Bush had said the US was seeking resolutions – emphasizes plural – we would deal with it at the SC, to get a resolution to get the inspection regime back up and make it clear that Iraq would be subject to strictures of earlier (1991) resolutions.

10.33 How did things change post 9/11. Russians went forward then back on smart sanctions. In February 2002 Colin Powell went serious on smart sanctions. Series of bilateral discussions, leading to smart sanctions regime 14 May. UNSCR 1409

10.32 The US would only collect allies when they needed them for various problems. Selective in their alliances.

10.29 Could the UK and US have built on this sympathy? Yes, but it was up to the US. Why did it not happen? That isn’t how the US works. It needed to happen as an understanding within the US domestic context.

10.28 Extraordinary that once 9/11 there was virtually universal sympathy for US at UN.
Strange that there was no real argument over 1373. Ironically, the only difficulty was from, UK, over asylum issue. Thinks universal sympathy to US should have been built on.

10.22 Could we have done more to address opposition to smart sanctions? Greenstock says the approach to smart sanctions was eventually successful post May 2002. Russia changed its mind. In summer 2001 it was the only SC member that opposed the kind of smart sanctions regime we were looking for. As Roderick Lyne for reasons! Ask I saw it from the UN: Russia had its own relationship with UN and was “seriously resentful” over Nov/Dec 1998 and “seriously resentful” over Kosovo. Thought the Russians were suspicious that US was out to get Iraq. Suspicious of NFZs. Not prepared to agree to a new sanctions regime without any measures to help Iraq get out of it. Not prepared to be rolled over by US.

10.17 The Inquiry has just published this statement (pdf) from Greenstock.

10.15 Was the UK’s attempt to secure smart sanctions an intelligent way to proceed? Yes. (All questions from Prashar btw). Had detailed discussions with US on this.

10.14 Was there much interest in the SC in addressing Iraq’s defiance? There was a concern that sanctions were not popular and not necessarily preventing Iraq improving its military capability.

10.13 UK had a different approach to US in that it wanted action based on UN and to avoid the use of force if possible but wanted effective action. We were in our own part of the spectrum.

10.12 Prashar asks to what extent Saddam’s defiance undermined the SC. Greenstock says all were suspicious of UN, none supported, none believed he wasn’t cheating. Referred to earlier answer.

10.11 Greenstock doesn’t think 2001 is a good place to start but since 1998 there was a lack of agreement at the Security Council over what to do about Iraq. At one end of the SC was the US, which saw the US as a threat. The UK agreed but wanted the UNSC to work. Other permanent members were abstaining but other members were unsure that the sanctions regime was worth it. Russia and France were two countries who had a direct relationship with Iraq and thought the US was being to harsh re sanctions, when the benefits were not clear, and thought there were other ways. The arab SC member was suspicious of the US position.

10.04 After an introduction from Chilcot and a reminder about telling the truth, Baroness Prashar starts by asking Greenstock about attitudes at the UN in 2001.

Archived Comments

By John Bone

Submitted on 2009/11/27 at 11:39am

I remember that there was a lot of confusion among Ministers in January 2003 about whether a second resolution was necessary. Blair seems to have decided that he needed to work for one.

By Tony Simpson

Submitted on 2009/11/27 at 12:23pm

In what respects was the Iraqi declaration (12,000 pages) deficient? Who established this? How was this communicated to the Iraqis? Dr Amir al-Saadi, who was responsible for compiling the declaration, commented at the time on his experiences with this process on CNN (see Spokesman 84:

By andrewsimon

Submitted on 2009/11/27 at 1:27pm

Tony –

I’ve already posted an entry about the issue of the Iraqi declaration here. Whether the Inquiry are actually going to see the documents remains to be seen. For interest, the UK’s (Jack Straw’s) determination that Iraq was in further material breach is here. Every single aspect mentioned is extremely complicated, somehow I don’t think the Inquiry is going to pick through them all one by one. Besides which, maybe this is part of the reason why the remit was set to only examine things from 2001 onwards.

By Lee Roberts

Submitted on 2009/11/27 at 1:56pm

“Greenstock raises Powell’s UN SC presentation.”, and no one on the panel points out that within 48 hours of Powell’s presenhtation, his entire case was exposed as a phony set of lies !! Is the committee actually alive ? Maybe someone should poke them from time to time to make sure

By Tony Simpson

Submitted on 2009/11/27 at 3:55pm

Andrew, thanks for your helpful reply. I hadn’t seen your earlier posting,which is informative. Certainly, there was much controversy surrounding the handling of the declaration once the Iraqis had submitted it. Dr al-Saadi describes how they did this. Wasn’t this the trip-wire for “material breach”?

By Lee Roberts

Submitted on 2009/11/27 at 6:13pm

I suffered through Greenstock’s dreadful performance. Not the brightest penny in the till. Why should we be at all interested that Greenstock thinks the invasion was legal. He is quite incapable of making such a judgment.

By Iain Paton

Submitted on 2009/11/27 at 8:04pm

A fascinating session. The ambassadors have emptied a trayload of Ferrero Rocher over Blair’s head.

The Bush-Blair dealings have been placed in the spotlight, the legitimacy of the war has been questioned, the military timetable has been exposed, and Blair has been firmly nailed as Bush’s poodle.

I am puzzled by Sir Christopher Greenstock’s view on legality. Does this mean that Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia was legal, as it was not opposed? Is that why the Czech Prime Minister didn’t want to sign the Lisbon Treaty?

By Iain Paton

Submitted on 2009/11/27 at 8:05pm

Sorry, last should say Sir Jeremy Greenstock…it’s getting late.

By andrewsimon

Submitted on 2009/11/27 at 9:51pm

Tony –

Wasn’t this the trip-wire for “material breach”?

Actually, I think it was more like a toxic minefield. Where’s the anthrax. We dumped it. Prove how much you dumped. We can’t, it just soaked into the ground. Where’s the receipt? We didn’t have one.

By michael shaw

Submitted on 2009/11/28 at 1:03pm

‘Legal but of questionable legitimacy’. What on earth does this mean? Am I alone in struggling to understand the distinction? Does not ‘lacking legitimacy’ equal ‘illegitimate’, hence ‘illegal’?

By Lee Roberts

Submitted on 2009/11/28 at 2:01pm

No one seems to have pointed out that even if Greenstock’s opinion is of any interest (which its not), it was an absurdity for him to claim that the invasion was “legal”. No one adjudicates on “legality”. How would that be demonstrated ? Even if the Security Council had endorsed the invasion of Iraq (which it didn’t), that doesn’t make it “legal”. Even the Security Council can make errors and be challenged in court.

The proper legal construct is whether the Iraq invasion was “illegal”. Greenstock could have voiced his opinion (as if it matters) that the invasion was “not illegal”. That is the issue at stake, and that is what a court and/or the UN would decide. “Not guilty”, doesn’t mean “Innocent”. This is so basic, that it seems clear to me that Greenstock has very little credibility, and far too much weight has been attached to what he said.

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