The Bush administration said Thursday existing U.N. resolutions provided a "solid" legal basis for the March 2003 decision to invade Iraq. The comments followed an assertion by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the U.S.-led war was illegal in the absence of specific authorizing resolution from the Security Council.
Mr. Annan had said previously that the war in Iraq was "not in conformity" with the U.N. Charter, but his depiction of the U.S.-led invasion as "illegal" in a BBC interview Wednesday marked the first time he had used such language, and it drew a sharp response from the State Department.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said a parade of Security Council resolutions, capped by resolution 1441 approved in November 2002, all threatened the Saddam Hussein government with "serious consequences" if it did not comply with U.N. demands over its suspected weapons programs.
Mr. Annan contended in the interview that there should have been second, follow-on resolution to 1441 giving a specific green light for the invasion. However, spokesman Boucher said a set of existing resolutions had already authorized the use of "all necessary means" to enforce them and that "serious consequences" implied the use of military force.
The spokesman said the United States and its allies would have preferred a follow-on second resolution, reaffirming international unity and will, had they had the necessary nine-vote majority, with no vetoes, on the Security Council. He said that was "unfortunately lacking," but that the measure was "not necessary from a legal point of view:"
"As far as the question of the head of the organization, the Security Council made these resolutions," he said. "The question of Iraq as a danger to international peace and security is one that has not only been described by us, but been described by the Security Council over a long period of years. But the fact is that we had a danger that had to be dealt with. We had a dangerous dictator that we and many other nations felt had to be removed. And he has been."
Mr. Boucher said the legal basis for war in the U.N. resolutions was "very firm and very clear" and that a large and substantial group of nations agreed.
To back its case, the State Department reissued an essay by its legal counsel, William Taft, published by the American Journal for International Law in July of last year.
Mr. Taft said among other things that while the Security Council's inability to produce a second resolution may have misled Iraq into thinking it could "wait out the process in New York," the absence of council action "in no way diminished the effect" of what it had already authorized.