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Context of 'February 2003-March 2003: US and Britain Spy on UN Secretary General'

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Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri meets with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Arab League Secretary-General Amir Moussa and gives them a letter expressing Baghdad’s willingness to readmit the UN weapons inspectors without conditions. The offer is made after Saddam Hussein convened an emergency meeting in Baghdad with his cabinet and the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). [Associated Press, 9/16/2002; Associated Press, 9/16/2002; Independent, 9/17/2002; New York Times, 9/17/2002] Iraq’s letter is effectively an agreement to the December 1999 UN Security Council Resolution 1284. [New York Times, 9/18/2002] Kofi Annan tells reporters after the meeting, “I can confirm to you that I have received a letter from the Iraqi authorities conveying its decision to allow the return of the inspectors without conditions to continue their work and has also agreed that they are ready to start immediate discussions on the practical arrangements for the return of the inspectors to resume their work.” Annan credits the Arab League, which he says “played a key role” in influencing Saddam Hussein’s decision to accept the inspectors, and suggests that a recent speech by Bush also played a critical part in influencing Baghdad’s decision. [UN News Center, 9/16/2002] UNMOVIC Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix also meets with Iraqi officials and it is reportedly agreed that weapons inspectors will return to Iraq on October 19. UNMOVIC spokesman Ewen Buchanan tells the BBC, “We are ready to discuss practical measures, such as helicopters, hotels, the installation of monitoring equipment and so on, which need to be put in place.” [BBC, 9/17/2002] The Bush administration immediately rejects the offer, calling it “a tactical step by Iraq in hopes of avoiding strong UN Security Council action,” in a statement released by the deputy press secretary. [Agence France-Presse, 9/16/2002; White House, 9/16/2002] And Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, tells reporters: “We’ve made it very clear that we are not in the business of negotiating with Saddam Hussein. We are working with the UN Security Council to determine the most effective way to reach our goal.” He then claims Iraq’s offer is a tactic to give “false hope to the international community that [President Saddam] means business this time,” adding, “Unfortunately, his more than decade of experience shows you can put very little into his words or deeds.” Two days later Bush will tell reporters that Saddam’s offer is “his latest ploy, his latest attempt not to be held accountable for defying the United Nations,” adding: “He’s not going to fool anybody. We’ve seen him before…. We’ll remind the world that, by defying resolutions, he’s become more and more of a threat to world peace. [The world] must rise up and deal with this threat, and that’s what we expect the Security Council to do.” [Independent, 9/17/2002; Agence France-Presse, 9/19/2002] Later that night, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice reportedly hold a conference call with Kofi Annan and accuse him of taking matters into his own hands. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 285] Britain supports the US position and calls for a UN resolution backed with the threat of force. [BBC, 9/17/2002] Other nations react differently to the offer. For example, Russia’s Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, says: “It’s important that, through our joint efforts, we have managed to put aside the threat of a war scenario around Iraq and return the process to a political channel… It is essential in the coming days to resolve the issue of the inspectors’ return. For this, no new [Security Council] resolutions are needed.” [Independent, 9/17/2002; BBC, 9/17/2002]

Entity Tags: Hans Blix, Naji Sabri Hadithi, Kofi Annan, Dan Bartlett, Condoleezza Rice, Scott McClellan, Amir Moussa, Colin Powell, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The Bush administration disagrees with the United Nations and other member states over what precisely should qualify as a “material breach” of UN Resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002). The UN and other nations believe that only serious violations should count. The US, however, takes the position that any violation, no matter how small, should be considered a material breach and thus sufficient cause for using military force against Iraq. The difference in opinion is acknowledged by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who says, “The US does seem… to have a lower threshold than others may have” to justify the use of military force. He also says, “I think the discussion in the council made it clear we should be looking for something serious and meaningful, and not for excuses to do something.” President Bush, reflecting the stance of his hawkish advisors, says the Security Council should have “zero tolerance,” implying that even minor infractions could be considered a “material breach.” [Washington Post, 11/17/2002 Sources: US and UN officials] Colin Powell and Vice President Cheney contend that the delay of, or omissions and inaccuracies in, Iraq’s early December declaration would constitute a breach. Iraq is warned to this effect. [Evening News With Dan Rather, 11/21/2002; Observer, 12/8/2002] During a dinner meeting on November 18, Hans Blix reminds a close aide to Saddam Hussein that a failure to meet the deadline would be considered by the United States to be a “material breach.” [Independent, 11/20/2002]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Kofi Annan, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, United Nations

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

One day after President Bush asserts that signs of Iraqi cooperation are so far “not encouraging,” UN Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix tells the Associated Press, “I think we have started in the manner we expected and we have not had any impediments in the visits of plants.” [Associated Press, 12/3/2002; Associated Press, 12/3/2002; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/3/2002] By this date, notes the Associated Press, “UN inspectors have reported unimpeded access and Iraqi cooperation” in “more than a dozen field missions.” [Associated Press, 12/3/2002] Similarly, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says, “It’s only been a week and obviously the cooperation seems to be good, but this is not a one-week wonder. They have to sustain the cooperation and the effort and perform.” [Agence France-Presse, 12/4/2002; Washington Post, 12/4/2002]

Entity Tags: United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, Hans Blix, Kofi Annan

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The US and British conduct a spy operation targeting UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other top UN officials. But news of this will not surface until February 2004. “[T]he UK… was… spying on Kofi Annan’s office and getting reports from him about what was going on,” former British cabinet member Claire Short will tell BBC Radio 4’s Today. When asked to elaborate, she says, “Well I know—I’ve seen transcripts of Kofi Annan’s conversations.” [BBC, 2/26/2004; Independent, 2/26/2004; New York Times, 2/27/2004; Guardian, 2/28/2004 Sources: Claire Short] And in an interview with The Guardian one day later, Hans Blix will say that he believes he too was bugged. [Guardian, 2/28/2004 Sources: Hans Blix] Under international treaties, it is illegal for member states to spy on UN offices. [New York Times, 2/27/2004; Sydney Morning Herald, 2/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Hans Blix, Kofi Annan, Claire Short

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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