US lawyers persuaded Lord Goldsmith to change his mind on Iraq war

American government lawyers helped to persuade Lord Goldsmith to give Tony Blair the “green light” for the Iraq war just weeks before the invasion, it emerged today.

Lord Goldsmith said that guidance from Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary had also been crucial in changing his own advice to the Prime Minister in late February 2003.

The Attorney-General at the time of the war said told the Iraq Inquiry today that he had initially warned Mr Blair that United Nations resolution 1441, passed in November 2002, did not provide a legal basis for overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

In his initial five-page draft opinion, which he gave to Mr Blair on January 14, he warned that he still believed a further resolution was necessary, specifically authorising the use of force.
He was encouraged to visit Washington the following month where he met senior US officials and lawyers - including national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Will Taft, a senior State Department legal adviser.

He said they had all been clear that President Bush's one "red line" in the negotiations on 1441 was that they should not "concede a veto" to the French on military action - something which they were adamant had not happened.

Lord Goldsmith said he had also been influenced by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador to the UN, and a “detailed letter from Jack Straw which … provided a very clear view about what the negotiating issues had been and now it had been resolved.”

He returned to London on February 11 and the following day changed his provisional legal advice to say that it would be reasonable to conclude that 1441 did authorize an invasion, but that it would be “safer” to get a second resolution.

The former Attorney General told the Iraq Inquiry said that the change of decision rested on the interpretation of “two or three” words in resolution 1441.

“At one stage my personal view was that taking all these factors into the balance. The balance came down in favour of saying no, a second resolution is needed,” he said.

“I then ultimately reached – when I had to reach a definitive view on this - a different view.”

Lord Goldsmith said gave his “provisional advice” to Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, on February 27 which said there was a “reasonable case that a second resolution was not necessary.”

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