Jack Straw – 2003 Statement on Iraq

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Below is the text of the statement made by Jack Straw, the then Foreign Secretary, in the House of Commons on 17 March 2003.

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement in respect of Iraq and the debate that will be held in the House tomorrow.

As the House will be aware, in the Azores yesterday my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, Prime Minister Aznar of Spain, President Bush of the United States and Prime Minister Barroso of Portugal called on all members of the Security Council to adopt a resolution—which would have been its 18th on Iraq—to challenge Saddam to take a strategic decision to disarm his country of his weapons of mass destruction as required by Security Council resolution 1441. Such a resolution has never been needed legally, but we have long had a preference for it politically.

There has been intense diplomatic activity to secure that end over many months, culminating in the past 24 hours. Yesterday evening, our ambassador to the United Nations, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, consulted his fellow permanent representatives from other Security Council member states. Just this morning I spoke to my Spanish, American, Russian and Chinese counterparts.

Despite those final efforts, I regret to say that we have reluctantly concluded that a Security Council consensus on a new resolution would not be possible. On my instructions, Sir Jeremy Greenstock made a public announcement to that effect at the United Nations at about 3.15 pm UK time today.

What we know about the Iraqi regime’s behaviour over many years is that there is the greatest chance of their finally responding to the United Nations obligations on them if they face a united Security Council. So, over the months since resolution 1441 was unanimously adopted by the Security Council in early November, the Prime Minister and I, and our ambassador to the United Nations, have strained every nerve in search of that consensus which could finally persuade Iraq, by peaceful means, to provide the full and immediate co-operation demanded by the Security Council.

Significantly, in all the discussions in the Security Council and outside, no one has claimed that Iraq is in full compliance with the obligations placed on it. Given that, it was my belief, up to about a week ago, that we were close to achieving the consensus that we sought on the further resolution. Sadly, one country then ensured that the Security Council could not act. President Chirac’s unequivocal announcement last Monday that France would veto a second resolution containing that or any ultimatum “whatever the circumstances” inevitably created a sense of paralysis in our negotiations. I deeply regret that France has thereby put a Security Council consensus beyond reach.

I need to spell out that the alternative proposals submitted by France, Germany and Russia for more time and more inspections carry no ultimatum and no threat of force. They do not implement resolution 1441 but seek to rewrite it. To have adopted such proposals would have allowed Saddam to continue stringing out inspections indefinitely, and he would rightly have drawn the lesson that the Security Council was simply not prepared to enforce the ultimatum that lies at the heart of resolution 1441: in the event of non-compliance, Iraq, as operational paragraph 13 spells out, should expect “serious consequences.”

As a result of Saddam Hussein’s persistent refusal to meet the UN’s demands, and the inability of the Security Council to adopt a further resolution, the Cabinet has decided to ask the House to support the United Kingdom’s participation in military operations, should they be necessary, with the objective of ensuring the disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and thereby the maintenance of the authority of the United Nations.

From the outset of this crisis the Government have promised that, if possible, the House would have the opportunity to debate our involvement in military action prior to the start of hostilities and on a substantive motion. The House will have that opportunity tomorrow. Copies of the motion, proposed by the Prime Minister and Cabinet colleagues, have been placed in the Vote Office.

In addition to dealing with military action the motion states that in the event of military operations the House requires that

“on an urgent basis, the United Kingdom should seek a new Security Council Resolution that would affirm Iraq’s territorial integrity, ensure rapid delivery of humanitarian relief, allow for the earliest possible lifting of UN sanctions, an international reconstruction programme, and the use of all oil revenues for the benefit of the Iraqi people and endorse an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq”.

In addition, the resolution goes on to endorse the middle east peace process as encapsulated in the imminent publication of the road map. I understand, Mr. Speaker, that you will be specifying the time by which amendments to this motion must be received. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office will make a short business statement immediately after the proceedings on this statement.

To inform the debate, I have circulated several documents to all right hon. and hon. Members today. These include a copy of the response from my noble and learned Friend the Attorney-General to a written question in the House of Lords in which he sets out the legal basis for the use of force against Iraq, as well as a detailed briefing paper summarising the legal background which I have sent to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I have also made available a note summarising Iraq’s record of non-compliance with resolution 1441. A new Command Paper comprising key recent United Nations documents, including the 173 pages of Dr Blix’s paper on “Unresolved Disarmament Issues: Iraq’s Proscribed Weapons Programmes”, which was published on 7 March in the Security Council, is now available in the Vote Office.

The debate tomorrow will be the most important in the House for many years. Some say that Iraq can be disarmed without an ultimatum, without the threat or the use of force, but simply by more time and more inspections. That approach is defied by all our experience over 12 weary years. It cannot produce the disarmament of Iraq; it cannot rid the world of the danger of the Iraqi regime. It can only bring comfort to tyrants and emasculate the authority of the United Nations. It is for these reasons that we shall tomorrow be asking the House to endorse and support the Government’s resolution.