Thursday, 12 February 2004

Questions (21, 22)

Joe Costello

Question:

15 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, following the public statements of Dr. Kay, former head of the United States initiated group searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, to the effect that none such have been found, the Government has satisfied itself with its decision to make Shannon Airport available for a pre-emptive strike against, and occupation of, Iraq. [4186/04]

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John Gormley

Question:

67 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on whether he has been proven completely wrong regarding the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; if he regrets allowing Shannon Airport to be used by the Americans for their war effort in Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4322/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 15 and 67 together.

What appears to be the increasingly firm conclusion that Iraq may not have been in possession of WMD at the time of the invasion of that country gives rise to important questions. In this regard, there are clearly questions which must be raised on the reliability of certain intelligence material. Of concern also, however, is how the international community should deal with a leader such as Saddam Hussein, who is prepared to defy the UN Security Council and to allow the impression to persist that he is in possession of WMD, even to the extent of bringing UN sanctions, invasion and occupation upon his people. Access to accurate and up to date intelligence, particularly for the United Nations, is clearly crucial to determining the appropriate response in such circumstances.

In arriving at a position on the threat posed by Iraq, the Government, like most governments around the world, was guided by a number of factors: first, the hard evidence that Iraq had at one time been in possession of chemical weapons and had used them both in its war with Iran and against its own people; second, that it had sought to develop nuclear weapons capability; third, that it had persistently defied the demands of the Security Council that it verifiably dismantle its WMD capabilities; fourth, that it refused to co-operate fully with UN weapons; finally, that the UN inspectors were not satisfied that Iraq had accounted for its stocks of WMD. The Government did not base its position on intelligence provided by the either the US or the UK.

At the time when Security Council Resolution 1441 was unanimously adopted, the Security Council was acting in the belief that Iraq did possess weapons of mass destruction. This belief was very widely shared in the international community. The General Affairs Council of the EU at its meeting of 18-19 November 2002 stated three times in the clearest terms its belief that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. This was despite the fact that there was disagreement among many member states about how to deal with the situation.

In his report of 6 March to the Security Council, Dr. Blix, head of UNMOVIC, the arms inspection team mandated to investigate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, said that many questions relating to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction remained unanswered. The belief that Iraq did retain WMD capability was therefore widespread, including in this House, and including on the part of some who appeared ready to oppose military action against Iraq under any circumstances. This fact appears to have been conveniently forgotten. It may be that only one man in the world truly knew at the time of the invasion whether or not Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

The fact remains that, whether or not these weapons still existed at the time, Iraq was in material breach of its disarmament obligations through its failure to co-operate fully with the arms inspectors in carrying out their mandate of verifying that Iraq no longer held weapons of mass destruction. War could have been averted if Saddam Hussein had co-operated fully with the arms inspectors mandated by the UN Security Council. Saddam Hussein was manifestly unwilling to do this. He began to offer minimal, but still thoroughly unsatisfactory, co-operation only when military pressure started to mount.

When the invasion was launched, the Government came before this House on 20 March 2003 and put forward a motion, which was approved by the Dáil, regretting that the coalition had found it necessary to launch its campaign in the absence of a further resolution of the UN Security Council. The reasons the Government nevertheless decided to maintain overflight and landing facilities for US aircraft were set out in the Dáil during the debate and the Government's decision was endorsed in the motion approved by the Dáil.

I do not regret the Government's decision. I regret the circumstances which gave rise to the Government having to make that decision. But, given those circumstances, I believe that the Government took the right decision.