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Context of 'February 24, 2003: US Officials Reportedly Tell UN Diplomat Iraq War Decision Has Not Been Made'

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The Bush administration quietly sends US diplomats to meet with the top officials of several UN Security Council member states in an attempt to influence their vote on any future resolutions on Iraq. A US diplomat tells the Associated Press, “The order from the White House was to use ‘all diplomatic means necessary,’ and that really means everything.”
Mexico - Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman and Kim Holmes, the assistant secretary of state for international organizations, are sent to Mexico City, where they encounter stiff resistance. The American diplomats reportedly warn Mexican officials, “Any country that doesn’t go along with us will be paying a very heavy price.” Henry Kissinger also makes a trip to Mexico warning its officials that the Bush administration would be “very unhappy” if Mexico opposes the US at the UN. Towards the end of the month, US Ambassador Tony Garza says that Congress might attempt to punish Mexico economically if it fails to support the US position at the UN. [Associated Press, 2/24/2003; Washington Post, 3/1/2003 Sources: Unnamed Mexican diplomat] A Mexican diplomat describes the pressure as “very intense” and adds that “the warnings are real” and having an impact on Mexican President Vincent Fox. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar also visits Mexico, but fails to get its support for a second resolution. [Associated Press, 2/24/2003 Sources: Unnamed Mexican diplomat] Mexico proves to be one of the most difficult countries to win over to the US side because there is “little the Bush administration [can] use to scare or entice Mexico now since it does not receive US aid and the one thing it had wanted most—legalizing the status of undocumented Mexicans in the United States—was taken off the table more than one year ago.” Additionally, the Mexican congress, its news media, and 75% of the Mexican population are strongly opposed to an invasion of Iraq. Even more threatening to US hopes for a second resolution is a pact between Mexico and Chile. The two governments agreed that each will abstain if the US, Britain, France, Russia and China fail to come to an agreement. Commenting on the deal, a Chilean diplomat tells the Associated Press, “We’re just not going to be used or bought off by either side.” But James R. Jones, a former US ambassador to Mexico, predicts that Fox will likely capitulate to Mexican business interests, which are dependent on a close relationship with the US. “If Mexico is not going to be good neighbors politically, it’s going to hurt them economically,” he says. [Associated Press, 2/24/2003; Associated Press, 2/26/2003; Washington Post, 3/1/2003]
Angola, Guinea and Cameroon - On February 24, US Assistant Secretary of State Walter Kansteiner meets with Angola’s President Jose Eduardo dos Santos in Luanda. Speaking of Angola’s relationship with the US, Angolan Ambassador Ismael Gaspar Martins tells the Associated Press, “For a long time now, we have been asking for help to rebuild our country after years of war,” and adds, “No one is tying the request to support on Iraq but it is all happening at the same time.” A US diplomat tells the news service, “In Africa, the message is simple: time is running out and we think they should support us.” [Associated Press, 2/24/2003] A major issue for Guinea and Cameroon is the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which gives African exporters preferential access to American markets. The act stipulates that beneficiaries must not “engage in activities that undermine US national security or foreign policy interests.” Angola is not currently eligible for the benefits provided under AGOA because of political corruption and its poor human rights record. But the US is considering overlooking these abuses in exchange for supporting its policy on Iraq. [London Times, 3/8/2003]

Entity Tags: Walter Kansteiner, US Congress, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Kim Holmes, Henry A. Kissinger, James R. Jones, Jose Maria Aznar, Marc Grossman

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

An unnamed senior UN diplomat tells the Washington Post that he had been told by US officials: “You are not going to decide whether there is war in Iraq or not. That decision is ours, and we have already made it. It is already final. The only question now is whether the council will go along with it or not.” [Washington Post, 2/25/2003 Sources: Unnamed (non-US) senior U.N diplomat]

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

After the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports that the Niger documents (see March 2000) are not authentic (see March 7, 2003), the US and British governments stand behind their claim that Iraq had sought uranium from an African country. The two countries maintain that they have additional evidence—from multiple sources—but do not elaborate. Pressed by journalists and inspectors to reveal their evidence, the two governments refuse. The IAEA tells Reuters that when it asked the US and Britain whether or not they have additional evidence that Iraq had tried to procure uranium, the answer was “no.” [Reuters, 3/26/2003]
'Information Blackout' - Additionally, an informed UN official tells the Washington Post that the US and Britain were repeatedly asked for more information. Neither government, the official explains, “ever indicated that they had any information on any other country.” [Washington Post, 3/22/2003] An unnamed Western diplomat tells the Independent: “Despite requests, the British Government has provided no such evidence. Senior officials at the agency think it is involved in an information black-out.” [Independent, 7/17/2003]
British Stick With Story Even after US Backs Away - The British will hold to their story even after top US officials admit (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003) that Bush should not have included the claim in his State of the Union speech.(see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) [New York Times, 7/8/2003; Independent, 7/20/2003]
Additional Evidence Initially Believed to be French Intel Reports - The London Times will later suggest that Britain’s additional evidence consisted of reports provided by the French in 1999 alleging that Iraqi diplomat Wissam al-Zahawie’s visit to Niger (see February 1999) was aimed at securing a deal to purchase uranium. [Sunday Times (London), 11/6/2005] As one British foreign official explains to the Independent: “Niger has two main exports—uranium and chickens. The Iraqi delegation did not go to Niger for chickens.” But Al-Zahawie disputes this. “My only mission was to meet the president of Niger and invite him to visit Iraq,” he tells the Independent. “The invitation and the situation in Iraq resulting from the genocidal UN sanctions were all we talked about. I had no other instructions, and certainly none concerning the purchase of uranium…. I have been cleared by everyone else, including the US and the United Nations. I am surprised to hear there are still question marks over me in Britain. I am willing to cooperate with anyone who wants to see me and find out more.” [Independent, 8/10/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003]
Actual Evidence Provided by Italian Reports Based on Forged Documents - Later reporting will reveal that the main source for Britain’s Africa-uranium allegation was in fact an Italian intelligence report (see Mid-October 2001) that traced back to the forged Niger documents. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005] “I understand that it concerned the same group of documents and the same transaction,” an unnamed Western diplomat close to the International Atomic Energy Agency later tells the Daily Mail. [Agence France-Presse, 7/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Jacques Baute

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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