03 November 2012

No British bases for US attack on Iran

The Thursday 25 October 2012 edition of The Guardian carried a report that the British Government had rejected a United States request for the use of British bases for the purposes of a pre-emptive attack on Iran.

The article begins:

Britain has rebuffed US pleas to use military bases in the UK to support the build-up of forces in the Gulf, citing secret legal advice which states that any pre-emptive strike on Iran could be in breach of international law.

The Guardian has been told that US diplomats have also lobbied for the use of British bases in Cyprus, and for permission to fly from US bases on Ascension Island in the Atlantic and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, both of which are British territories.

The US approaches are part of contingency planning over the nuclear standoff with Tehran, but British ministers have so far reacted coolly. They have pointed US officials to legal advice drafted by the attorney general's office which has been circulated to Downing Street, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence.

This makes clear that Iran, which has consistently denied it has plans to develop a nuclear weapon, does not currently represent "a clear and present threat". Providing assistance to forces that could be involved in a pre-emptive strike would be a clear breach of international law, it states.

This sounds very much like the tenor of the advice tendered to Tony Blair by his Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, prior to the latter’s remarkable U-turn on the eve of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. There is a good account of this sequence of events in a 1 July 2010 article in The Independent by Defence Correspondent Ken Sengupta, published following the release of the relevant papers by the Chilcot Inquiry. As the synopsis at the head of the article puts it:

For seven years, Britain has wanted to see how the legal case for invading Iraq was made. Yesterday, at a public inquiry that is going on unnoticed, official documents were released for the first time that showed the grave reservations of the Attorney General, his remarkable U-turn, and how the basis for the Iraq war was built on sand.

Let us hope there is no U-turn this time. I am not optimistic. If the US is intent on invading Iran, or becomes so in the future, the pressures on the British Government will be enormous.

Read the full Guardian story about the current standoff regarding Iran here.

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