Live Blog – 8 February 2010

Monday 8 February 2010

(There were two one evidence sessions today, although we only blogged the second one, scheduled for 14:00 – 17:00.)

Topic: (The inquiry now only lists witnesses by relevant role, rather than by topic area.)

Jack Straw MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, 2001 – 2006

This afternoon’s hearing, as it happened

This afternoon’s witness is Jack Straw MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, 2001-06, speaking from 14.00 to 17.00.

The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow is also blogging live.

17.41 The session ends with applause – presumably for Chilcot.

17.36 Statement from Chilcot. Almost at end of first phase. Setting out current position. We are here to establish reliable account and learn lessons. We are committed to be open about the information we are receiving. Lots of people watching it online. There are also documents. First phase set out to establish narrative. Then looking at decision makers. Range of different perspectives about events. Evidence so far has allowed us to have a detailed account. But the great bulk of our evidence is in documents, revealing what really went on behind the scenes. They form the central core. Getting more documents. Unrestricted access. Publishing documents is a different matter. We will look at the documents and see who to speak to next. In the meantime, we will be holding meetings and may visit Iraq. Cannot take formal evidence from foreign nationals. We will publish as much evidence as we can. We hope to complete our report by the end of the year.

17.30 Why now? The plain fact is that there were large bodies of opinion that did not accept that diplomacy was exhausted, no imminent threat. What was it that made military action as justified as well as inevitable? Does not accept that inevitable. Followed from 9/11, rogue states… Afghanistan, concern about destabilising effect of Iraq. Got 1441. Requirements could be met. Were not there as tricks. What did we do – having tried to resolve peacefully backed by force of arms my view was that we had to follow it through. The purpose of the action was not regime change… but that having happened, there were few in Iraq who would want to go back.

17.28 Was Iraq the UK’s choice of target because it was the US choice of target? No, I think it was both. Profound concern here. Clear we would not have got nuclear disarmament of Libya without Iraq.

17.25 Chilcot asks about evidence from Blair and others that the policy reflected his judgement about what was right. A critique is that he got locked into a policy that was not sufficiently challenged? Straw says Blair was not short of challenging advice from me. Others were there to saying to PM, hang on a second, eg Manning, Powell. Would have been better to have sub-committee like defence and overseas policy committee… has to be a relatively tight group also because people have things to do and because diplomacy is fast-moving and has to be kept confidential.

17.20 Chilcot has a couple of questions on decision making. From what we have heard and read. You were the only minister to have been kept fully informed thoughout. Should the decision have been shared by more than two ministers in full possession of the facts? Should more than two have been involved? Straw says Hoon was also involved. Says he was at the more formal end of the spectrum of how government should be conducted. If it had been down to me, I would have had had a cabinet committee earlier. I was giving advice to PM summer 2002. Two caveats: one is that a large part of what I did was day by day hour by hour. Accept case that could have been moderated by a cabinet committee but lots was operational. Do not accept that substance of decision would have been different. Would have made it more legitimate.

17.14 Looking at Iran, have had evidence that interference from Iran was aggravating, essentially the problem was an internal one. Straw says simplistic to regard Iran as bogeyman. Have tried to develop understanding of its history etc. Rarely have single objective. Long term strategic objective was same as UK – to secure stable democratic Iraq in which Shia would have majority rights and Iranian Shia would be able to visit hold sites. Also did not want West/US/UK to have a comfortable time. From 21 March had US on both sides. Also axis of evil speech was a profound mistake. Could not understand why Bush had done it. Iran had not invaded anyone. Also Khatami govt seeking to reach out…

17.12 How do you respond to the view that a war intended to cut off opportunities for terrorists provided new opportunities to challenge the West? Straw puts it into local context. Freedman says this seems to have been predictable. When did Blair ask for a briefing. Can’t remember. There were briefings, realised it was likely. Not least because SH had problems in South.

17.09 Freedman quotes Blair as saying no-one believed that Al-Qaeda would come in or that Iran would try to destabilise the country. Was that your view? Did we anticipate it … not to the extent that it would happen. Agrees that they thought Al Zarqarwi was there. Freedman points out that there was an awareness of possible revenge attacks in South. Straw says “obviously we knew about the potentil risks…”

17.05 Freedman asks about kidnappings and the policy issues raised by events like the kidnapping of Kenneth Bigley and Margaret Hassan. Straw says he took it seriously. Made himself available to the family. Freedman brings him back to the policy issue of whether you sanction any sort of discussion? The policy, which I think is the correct one, is not to pay ransoms. In terms of what you say to intermediaries, you communicate any way that you can secure a satisfactory outcome.

17.02 Gilbert asks about the South. Witness have said that there were not enough resources to carry out the exemplary role. Were you able to secure resources and how did you do that? There was the usual process of negotiation with the Treasury. Ultimately quite quickly they responded with the money.

16.57 Gilbert asks how Straw weighed the risks of taking joint responsibility as occupying power while decisions were taken by US? We were bound to take responsibility tied up with decision to take military action. Gilbert asks how you account for lack of influence on eg de-Baathification and disbandment of army which appear to have been taken in Washington without consultation with us? Rather badly. If there had been consultation, it would have been different. Two greatest errors. Gilbert asks at what point we learnt? To late to be able to change it.

16.54 Prashar asks if the FCO Iraq planning unit was a planning unit or to do with policy. Why was it suggested by the Cabinet Office rather than the FCO? There is no copyright on the idea. Why was there not a ministerial committee? (quotes Tim Cross). It is not for the foreign secretary to set up a cabinet committee. There was a huge amount of co-ordination taking place. Worked hard with DFID. Fundamental problem was dysfunctional situation in US.

16.49 Discussion of Straw’s attempts to improve relations with DFID. Prashar asks if he was getting well judged and timely advice. Didn’t feel I wasn’t. Why did we fail to anticipate the extent of the sectarian strife, Al Qaeda and Iran? We anticipated a great deal. Things went wrong later.

16.43 Prashar asks why did we fail to exert influence over the post-conflict planning? It was the State Department that lost out. Tim Cross said it was when he was in Kuwait that he realised the lack of planning. Prashar disagrees about the timing. Prashar asks what advice Straw was receiving? A lot of advice, I haven’t got it in front of me… Prashar keeps bringing him back to planning before the event. Lots of waffle.

16.42 Were you having discussions with Colin Powell and did you have a joint plan? Yes, there were discussions going back to the previous February/March, it was perfectly possible that the US would be able to remove the Saddam regime. In early 2003, senior officials went to the US to discuss plans.

16.35 They are back. Prashar moves on to planning for the aftermath. When did Straw appreciate that the UN could not take a lead? Formally on 19 March, the day after the invasion? Telegram from Kofi Annan. It was very clear from the day before the action, the day after our decision that the UN would not be in the sole lead. Prashar says am I right in thinking that our planning assumption was that the Un was going to take the lead role? Discussion of what this means. Only source of authority post-invasion would be the military

Chris Ames now blogging till the end.

(another short break – 10 mins)

16.26 Lyne – Afternoon of 12th was there discussion between Downing St and White House to blame French? Clair Short’s comments need to be set against what everyone else was saying. With more time could UN consensus be made? It could have worked.

16.19 Lyne – Chile and Mexico – so it wasn’t France alone. More talk about diplomatic traffic with France. Belief that Chirac may have gone too far. Discussion was needed at head of Govt level.

16.15 Over to Rod Lyne – asks about other UN positions. Chirac’s veto didn’t apply because we didn’t have 9 votes? Straw – I don’t accept that. This affected the vote of others so they may have thought – what’s the point..

16.11 Back to French position. Claims France was trying to influence African nations position. Never had votes in the bag? We thought we did but they slipped away. Had there been more time? – we know know they didn’t have much to produce but this was subsidiary because of previous denials.

16.06 Was there willingness for US to offer more time (7 March)? Claims Blix said WMD was there (in his book). 5 of the 6 benchmarks came from Blix’s pocket! Back to qn – no not really.

16.02 LF: Assumption had been that second res would have come about after a report of non-compliance – why did you press for 2nd res before this? JS: (not really answering qn) – I issued FCO report about breaches of 1441. (damn – doorbell!) Straw claims six tests would have been easy for Iraq to comply with.

15.55 ‘Time’ was debated in UN 7 March. Blix – assessment on presentations on the rest of UNSC? This was divided and became polarized. Powell and others in US arguing for diplomatic solution felt that the rug had been pulled out from them.

15.50 Talk about Powell. Neo-cons etc ‘noises off’ but they weren’t going to take the final decision. Had Blix said compliance was being met…

15.47 Freedman starts with diplomacy issues. Did you know the US plan for invasion in March? Yes, we had pushed this back. Claims US had not made a final decision ‘come what may’. Timetable extension? Had been extended through Feb and early March. Had we got the second resolution and the benchmarks had been complied with there wouldn’t have been action.

(Andrew Mason taking over blog)

15.31 Ten minute break

15.27 Chilcot asks for Straw’s assurance that cabinet was sufficiently well informed to make a judgement and share in risks. Yes. I would like to say why. We had made a decision that if there was any question of military action this had to be endorsed in advance and in terms by the Commons. Cook and I were both on the same page. Knew consequences… Suez could not have taken place if Eden had had to go to the commons and explain what he was doing. Process could have been more formal. It is simply untrue to say that cabinet government had broken down.

15.25 Prashar says would it not have been better if the cabinet had had the full opinion but you persuaded Goldsmith not to do so? I did that as it says in the note, because we were concerned about leaks. there is then the position of the military… Prashar brings him back to the issue of “finely balanced”? Straw says any member of the cabinet could have asked about the finely balanced issue… Nothing unusual about legal decision being finely balanced. Cabinet wanted/needed to know what the decision was. Confirms he was concerned about leaks.

15.20 Onto the meeting of 17 March and what was said to the cabinet. You have said in your second memorandum that the cabinet needed to know where it stood… could it do that without knowing that the legal issues were finely balanced? Straw says the cabinet were aware because it was in the newspapers. Chilcot says that was not legal advice. Straw waffles. No-one was unaware that there was not an intense legal debate. The issue for the cabinet was whether it was lawful or not. A yes/no decision was what was required. It was open to members of the cabinet to question the AG. Cabinet was the place of some very strong-minded people. Their judgement was that it was not necessary to go into the process by which Goldsmith had come to his view. Short had said just before to the BBC… She was acknowledging the proposition in 1441. Quotes Short as saying “I was kind of jeered at”. Not my recollection.

15.17 Chilcot asks about Blair’s view that it was right to call AG in when the policy was set? Is it not better to fold the advice into the policy? I think it would have been better had it proved possible for there to have been a definitive view at an early stage. The original set of instructions was sent on 9 December. In terms of the final view, it would have been better if one could have been arrived at earlier. It would have focused people’s minds on whether military action was an option, not whether it was a political and moral issue. Chilcot observes that the need for a definitive view at the last minute would have been avoided.

15.15 Did going for a second resolution undermine the self-sufficiency of 1441? There was a risk. It was much preferable to seek and gain a second resolution. Had we been able to persuade the P5 partners of the need for the resolution we had put forward, the Saddam regime would have collapsed very quickly.

15.12 Chilcot points out that Greenstock had his own legal advice drawn up. Straw agrees. Greenstock’s legal counsellor played a role. Chilcot is still looking at the folding in of advice. On 18 November, Goldsmith said he had seen enough of 1441 to doubt it would work on its own. (Chilcot admits he got this wrong it was 14 October). Chilcot says was it clear that 1441 was enough as it was being negotiated. Straw says it was clear to those who were negotiating it.

15.11 Chilcot says the AG only appears once or twice up to 1441. In the meantime, the only advice was from FCO advisers. What kind of promulgation did it get? It did not get promulgation but it is not unusual that there was not a stream of advice coming to the cabinet.

15.10 Chilcot asks if legal advice had been made available to the cabinet? I don’t recall the cabinet as a whole receiving legal advice on the matter. The issue of action without a first resolution became eclipsed once Bush declared for the UN route.

15.08 Chilcot asks if the existence of an international law dimension was acknowledged in cabinet? Unquestionably. It was part of the overall environment of debate.

15.05 Does Straw accept the idea of an unreasonable veto at the UNSC? No, I was clear that a veto was a veto. Freedman says the attorney’s advice on this was consistent. Straw says he never agreed with the idea of an unreasonable veto. Freedman asks about when Blair used the argument on 6 February – did you say anything? Straw cannot remember. Freedman says it was not the only occasion. To follow it to its conclusion, if you had pressed on and got nine votes and a veto, would it have been unlawful? It would have been politically impossible.

15.04 Freedman says that Goldsmith acknowledged in his 7 March advice that it would be hard to stand up in court.

15.02 Freedman refers to Goldsmith’s acknowledgement of a lack of hard evidence of negotiating history and reliance on what he was told, e.g. by the US. Waffle from Straw. I set it out in my letter of 6 February… Perplexed by that. There were telegrams…

14.59 Freedman suggests that some of these negotiations are eventually resolved by language and you have to come back to it. The question is whether what is said privately takes precedence over what it said on the record? Straw says we agreed a two stage process but one that did not require a second resolution.

14.54 Freedman quotes Goldsmith’s claim that the US negotiators could not have stumbled across their red line by accident. Do diplomats ever make mistakes? Straw says mistakes were made but everything was crawled over in detail… they knew what it said and voted for it. Freedman says the US view about what might/not work was dependent on a US view of international law. It might not work for us? Straw accepts that they have a different view… can I just say this: if we had been negotiating a resolution that required a second resolution the negotiations would have been over in a week…

14.52 Freedman suggests that “all necessary means” indicates why others on the SC would have wanted a decision. Straw asks why France, Russia and China would accept 1441. If you then role forward to Lavite…

14.51 Freedman says that the US wanted “all necessary mean”. Was that a concession or not? Serious consequences can cover a range of possibilities? Straw says it was made clear to him that it included military action.

14.48 Freedman goes back to his question about whether Straw let Goldsmith know that De Villepin told him clearly that he did not agree his interpretation. Straw says he assumes the telegrams were available at the time to the AG. I assume the legal advisers in the FCO would have put together a bundle. If I can say this about the French position, they were concerned that there should be no “automaticity”, i.e. that it should be two stage. (he is going off the point here to muddy the waters)

14.45 Freedman asks whether in the material he made available to Goldsmith included the discussion he had with Villepin in early November where he did seem to think that that language allowed/encouraged a second resolution. Straw says allowed and required not the same thing. Had a good relationship with Villepin. The record shows there were these intense discussions. The language was English. Turns up comment by Jean David Lavite? 23 March 2003, on the record. “I went to the State Department and White House to say don’t do it. Do not need a resolution.” Freedman says it was an important point on diplomacy and tactics.

14.41 Freedman refers to Goldsmith’s statement that he could not talk to the French. Could you not have helped him with the French view? If he had asked me to talk to the French, of course we would have facilitated that. I have no recollection of that ever being raised with me. As for the view of the French, it is on the record, in the explanation of votes and text of 1441. It was a matter of record that the French had tried to put decide into op12. Equally we had accepted a strengthening of OP4.

14.39 Freedman asks what arguments Straw was using? As set out in my letter of 6 February. Says he didn’t see a great deal of Goldsmith. I would have had a conversation with him at PM’s letter on asylum. He asked if I had seen draft opinion. I had but had not had a chance to look at it in detail.

14.38 Freedman asks about Straw’s difficulty with AG, that he didn’t share Straw’s interpretation… The issue is then how you “encouraged” him to share that interpretation. Straw, Greenstock, UK. Says that Greenstock did not “get me there”. Where was he supposed to be getting? Straw says that is a matter for him.

14.37 Chilcot just emphasizes that it is routine for legal advisers to give advice without waiting for AG? Straw agrees – but this is not an everyday situation.

14.35 Final question from Prashar re comparison between foreign secretary and home secretary. There is more responsibility on foreign secretary to keep within the law because there is no external jurisdiction? Straw says yes, but this does not mean the correct view is one side or the other. The correct view that I knew from my role in 1441 was the one the AG finally came to.

14.32 Prashar asks why Wood had felt it necessary to write to Straw? I was not questioning his right to give advice. I owed him an on the record response.

14.31 Straw says if it is about whether the US was aware that our legal advisers were saying a new resolution was necessary, the answer was yes?

14.29 Lyne points out that the telegram is accurate. Says that Straw was anticipating a decision that the AG would come to in the future. Straw says again that Kosovo is relevant only in terms of the failed attempt to get a UNSC approval not the underlying legal basis. Lyne says that Straw was saying something that was not in line with the government’s position. Straw does not accept. AG’s view at this time was a provisional view. No single govt legal position.

14.27 Lyne says but it has been clearly established that the Kosovo precedent did not apply? Straw tries to cast doubt on the conversation. Kosovo was relevant because there was a failed attempt to get UNSC approval.

14.25 Lyne comes in, isn’t the point that you took a view (re a la Kosovo) that was not at the time the government’s position? Straw says the fact is that lots of people thought at that time that a second resolution would not be required… I was entitled to say that… subject to a decision by the AG.

14.24 Prashar says is it not the case that legal advisers give advice all the time without reference to the AG? Straw says this is a different case. He also says that the AG came down on his side eventually.

14.21 Prashar points to criticism in Straw’s submission that Wood did not say in his January 2003 letter that it was for the AG to rule. Says that Wood’s view was “incorrect”.

14.20 The legal advice he offered was contradictory.

14.18 Prashar says that in writing to you, he wrote an operational note, the advice to AG was – at your instruction – rather balanced? Straw says he did not ignore advice. The same lawyers had written these things. He simply will not accept that he cannot rely on Wood’s “balanced” letter in December 02 when he asked him to write it that way.

14.15 Straw says that it is a most extraordinary constitutional legal doctrine that in the absence of a decision from the AG a departmental legal adviser should be able to express a view. Doesn’t see why there is such concern that I should have received a note that was not legal advice but was operational. He didn’t say in the note, there is balanced view, my strong view is there is no doubt in anyone’s mind… In the light of everything that was known in the FCO about the history of 1441, plus what Wood had said in December, it was an extraordinary thing to say. Yes, I did ask Wood to give a balanced view.

14.13 Straw notes that Wood’s letter in December 2002 had two views. Prashar points out that it was made clear to Wood that he should leave the matter open and should not ask for legal advice at this point. Is it not unfair to contrast his views with a minute that he wrote. Straw does not accept this. What would was doing in December was what lawyers were supposed to do. She has Straw here. His point has backfired.

14.11 Prashar tries to keep Straw to the point. Straw agrees that the law is very clear on some issues but, the reason that I had views about it was that I had been involved in negotiating 1441.

14.09 Prashar asks about Straw’s January 2003 letter to Wood. Is the interpretation of 1441 not a narrow field on which there is not significant discretion? Straw says that narrow points can have huge consequences. Says 1441 passed 8 November 2002, Wood’s letter to AG sent the next month.

14.07 Prashar says wasn’t the problem that the AG was not asked earlier. Straw says it was not to do with me. Says there was no way I would be involved in anything that did not go through the UN. Accepts that it was Wood’s duty to pull him up.

14.06 quote from Straw’s new submission: “As the records both declassified and still classified show, as Foreign Secretary I took a very close interest in the question of the lawfulness of any military action in which the United Kingdom might be involved.”

14.03 Prashar opens by quoting Michael Wood as saying that Straw said things publicly or to the US that were not in line with legal advice. Straw opens by saying it was always going to be up to the attorney general (AG). There were always two views. Prashar interrupts to say there were earlier occasions, March and October 2002? Straw says what we were seeking to do before Crawford was to go down the UN route. There were still a number of views about whether 687 could revive authority. I had told Blair that we had to go down the UN route but had to keep open negotiating position publicly. I accepted legal advice.

14.01 Chilcot opens by saying that the session is a continuation of the earlier hearing. There are no new declassified documents but a new submission from Straw. They will look at legal issues and then planning for the post-war and the aftermath itself.

Archived Comments

By Tony Simpson

Submitted on 2010/02/08 at 2:53pm

Straw looked truly rattled under the Prashar/Lyne interrogation. Now he’s waffling like there’s no tomorrow!

By John Bone

Submitted on 2010/02/08 at 3:58pm

15.47 “Had there been a second resolution there wouldn’t have been a war.” This is the kind of crazy stuff Blair was saying in early 2003.

By John Bone

Submitted on 2010/02/08 at 4:11pm

Just before 16.00 hours. Straw repeats his usual libel that Blix was witholding documents.

By resistor

Submitted on 2010/02/08 at 5:00pm

Didn’t the panel imply they had seen a communication from Powell saying the Americans would invade no matter what happened at the UN?

By Anthony

Submitted on 2010/02/08 at 6:48pm

I just caught the end of this, and I would just offer a couple of thoughts that are perhaps kinder to the inquiry members than most of you are inclined to be.

Firstly, I would have little doubt that Straw’s extreme care to avoid answering any question was not lost on the panel. I know people feel that by failing to apply thumbscrews, the panel allow deniers to get away with it, but there is another way of looking at it. The panel is giving the denier an opportunity to explain themselves. If they don’t take it, they leave the panel to draw its own conclusions, which may be harsh. It seems to me similar to when you’re interviewing for a job. An applicant might fail to address the questions and may feel he has got away with it if you don’t bawl him out, but once he has left the room, you turn to one another and say ‘he didn’t have an answer for anything, did he?’. And he doesn’t get the job.

The second point was contained in Sir John Chilcot’s little speech, when he mentioned how much of the panel’s work is unseen by us, reading documents. This had already occurred to me, in particular in relation to Sir Martin Gilbert, who is clearly a very mild questioner. But as an historian, he may well be very good at reading the documents and drawing connections between them, exposing contradictions etc. We might condemn him, but we don’t see the area in which he is best qualified to have an effect.

I accept of course that the final report may turn out to be a whitewash, but I haven’t seen anything yet that points that way. The questions are more significant than the answers and they point to a lot of scepticism about the official line. And if we think the answers are poor, the panel may think likewise. Reading Professor Freedman’s excellent 2006 paper on this subject, to which Chris has provided a link, indicates that he for one would have to row back a very long way from what he has already said in order to be able to sign up to an uncritical report.

By Lee Roberts

Submitted on 2010/02/08 at 6:49pm

“Cannot take formal evidence from foreign nationals”….he is making that up, and its disgraceful. He knows that Scott Ritter, Hans Blix, Hans Von Sponik, and others could sink Blair, Straw and Brown, and he will do whatever he can to prevent that happening. Chilcot is faithfully fulfilling the mandate set by Gordon.

By chris lamb

Submitted on 2010/02/08 at 9:00pm

It does not seem to have been considered yet that the US had a stronger motive to obstruct a second resolution than the French. As Goldsmith conceded in his 07 March advice- and is evident in the US explanation of the vote- the US had no intention of allowing the Security Council to make the final decision about the use of military force against Iraq.

Thus, in 1441 it implanted the word “consider” with a very restrictive meaning.

If the US had no intention of permitting the Security Council to further decide about military force in 1441, it certainly would not have supported a second resolution putting the decision about using military force back into the court of the Security Council.

As the draft US, UK and Spanish second resolution revealed, it could not, under the terms of Chapter VII, delegate the decision to initiate military force to the Member States. This was in breach of the UN Charter. Under a second resolution, the Security Council would have had to decide on military force as, indeed, would have been the case if they had decided further under the terms of paragraph 12 of 1441. This would have been anathema to the Bush administration.

Either the Bush administration had tagged Blair and Straw along in genuine ignorance of its real hostility to a second resolution or Blair and Straw are now being wholly disingenuous about what they really knew. I believe the latter is true.

As the French wanted paragraph 12 of 1441 to hold the power for the Security Council to “decide” they would, arguably, have been more amenable to a second resolution as long as it did not rule out all other options than military force (as the US/UK threatened).

Straw indicated his so-called “expertise” in the negotiating history of 1441, but Goldsmith conceded in his 07 March 2003 advice that the products of this would not stand up in a court of law because little was formally recorded and much prone to hearsay and partial and selective interpretation.

All recorded documents from the negotiating history of 1441 should be made available to the Chilcot Inquiry and as much as possible published.

By Joan W. Gartland

Submitted on 2010/02/20 at 1:51am

On hostages, specifically Margaret Hassan:
Straw says the policy is not to pay ransoms but to communicate with “intermediaries” until a satisfactory conclusion is reached. What negotiations were made on behalf of Margaret Hassan after the abductors made several calls to her husband on her own cell phone? The press stated that no calls were returned by British officials to the “intermediaries” How can Straw or anyone on the panel justify this lack of response which ultimately resulted in Mrs. Hassan’s murder.

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