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Britain Defends Legality of Iraq Invasion - 2004-09-16

Britain says it disagrees with the assessment of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the invasion of Iraq was illegal. Fresh controversy has erupted over the legality of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq last year, following an interview Mr. Annan gave to British television.

Mr. Annan told a reporter he believes the U.N. Security Council should have passed a second resolution specifically approving the invasion, because an earlier resolution on weapons inspections had been too vague on that matter.

When pressed by the reporter, Mr. Annan said he agreed with the description of the invasion as "illegal."

"I am one of those who believe that there should have been a second resolution, because the Security Council indicated that if Iraq did not comply, there would be consequences, but then it was up to the Security Council to approve or determine what those consequences should be," he said.

"So you do not think there was legal authority for the war," asked the reporter.

"I have stated clearly that it was not in conformity with the U.N. Charter," the secretary-general replied. "It was illegal," asked the reporter.

"Yes, if you wish," Mr. Annan said.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard rejected the allegations and criticized the United Nations as being, as he put it, "paralyzed" because important decisions can only be made by consensus.

In London, the Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt told British radio the invasion was legal and necessary, and it is time to look forward to Iraq's future.

"I have enormous respect for Kofi Annan and of course I respect his views on this matter. I regret that we disagree with them. But the important thing, the crucial thing now is that we and the United Nations and the international community continue working with the Iraqi people so that they can achieve what they all want, which is a safe, secure, and democratic Iraq."

Britain's attorney general, Peter Goldsmith, issued an opinion shortly before the invasion that the war was legal under international law, and parliament then voted by a 3-1 margin to authorize the participation of British troops.