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Iraq attack very close, says Bush
No case for military action, lawyers tell Blair
Duncan Campbell, Michael White and Patrick Wintour
Friday March 7, 2003
President George Bush last night indicated that war was very close in an address to the American people on prime time television. In response to questions after a brief address he said that "we are days away from resolving this issue at the security council".
On the eve of the UN inspector Hans Blix's weapons report to the UN, Mr Bush said that Mr Blix had only one question to answer: "Has the Iraqi regime fully and unconditionally disarmed as required by resolution 1441 or has it not?"
In what appeared to be a prelude to a declaration of war, he sombrely warned journalists in Iraq to leave. "We will give people a chance to leave," he said, in response to a question about US inspectors and journalists.
His speech came after Tony Blair last night faced fresh pressure to abandon the threat of war against Iraq when 16 eminent academic lawyers warned him that the White House doctrine of "pre-emptive self-defence" has no justification under international law.
In a letter sent to Downing Street and published in today's Guardian, the leading lawyers declare that the UN security council's existing resolutions on Iraq - including 1441, passed unanimously in November to enforce disarmament on Saddam Hussein - fail to provide authority for war. Nor were there currently any grounds for passing a new resolution to give the "clearly expressed assent" to a war that Mr Blair still seeks.
The signatories - specialists who include James Crawford, Whewell Professor of International Law at Cambridge, and Vaughan Lowe, Chichele Professor at Oxford - also take a sideswipe at the prime minister for saying that he and George Bush would ignore an "unreasonable veto" in the security council.
Mr Bush's news conference was only the eighth such for mal address he has given since taking office. He was said to have had a question and answer session with staff in advance of the address to prepare himself.
The fact that he chose to speak at prime time was an indication of the significance attached to his appearance. It was only his second ever prime time address. The address was also aimed at the 250,000 US troops in the Gulf.
While White House officials briefed beforehand that the president planned no declaration of war, it was flagged as a way of preparing the American public for an imminent war.
Mr Bush said his first duty was to protect the American people and he believed that they were under threat as long as Saddam Hussein had not been disarmed. "Since I believe the threat is real and since my job is to protect the America people. That is precisely what we will do."
The president claimed that Iraq was engaged in a "wilful charade". He added: "If the Iraqi regime was disarming, we would know it." He claimed that the Iraqi leader was hiding weapons. "Inspection teams do not need more time or more personnel _ token gestures are not acceptable."
He went on: "The risk of doing nothing, the risk that somehow inaction will some how make the world a safer place is something I am not willing to do."
He also referred to the capture of al-Qaida leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. "Thanks to the hard work of American and Pakistani officials, we captured the master mind of the September 11 attacks on our nation: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed _ we believe his capture will further disrupt the terror network."
The speech was also seen to be addressed at the international community in a bid to persuade waverers amongst the countries in the Security Council. Intense diplomatic efforts have been made in the last few days to persuade those who think the UN inspectors should have more time that a deadline should be set.
Mr Blair, when cross-examined by young European voters in an MTV TV debate yesterday, suggested he was prepared to ignore multiple vetoes. "If there was a veto applied by one of the countries with a veto, or by countries that I thought were applying the veto unreasonably, in those circumstances we would (go ahead)," he said
The lawyers, noting that Britain itself has exercised the veto 32 times since the UN was founded in 1945, say "the prime minister's assertion that in certain circumstances a veto becomes 'unreasonable' and may be disregarded has no basis in international law.
Not content with telling Mr Blair that a second resolution is legally necessary as well as politically vital if No 10 is to stem growing dissent among Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs, the lawyers, mostly British-based but of many nationalities, add a further sting.
The letter's signatories include six leading lawyers from Oxford, three from Cambridge and three from the London School of Economics. Also among them are Professor Phillipe Sands, a member of Cherie Blair QC's Matrix chambers, and Professor Pierre-Marie Dupuy of the Sorbonne.