LONDON – Britain could take lawful military action against Iraq without a second U.N. resolution, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Saturday as other British officials warned a military strike could be just days away.
On the eve of a summit between the leaders of Britain, the United States and Spain, Straw said resolution 1441, passed unanimously by the U.N. Security Council in November, provided the legal authority for war.
Asked on British Broadcasting Corp. radio if there would be a second resolution before war, Straw said: "I cannot say that for certain."
"Plainly, if military action has to be taken, it is preferable, to put it at its lightest, that we could have the whole of the international community behind us. But that may not be possible," Straw told the BBC.
"Any action we are involved in, or in the future are involved in, will be fully consistent with our obligations in international law. We are satisfied, as are many other countries, that we ... would have full legal authority" under 1441.
British ambassador to the United Nations Jeremy Greenstock said Friday that war could be just days away. In Greece, British Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram agreed.
"I think that language which has been used over recent days in London would lead us to that conclusion as well," Ingram said.
The foreign secretary said there was still time for Saddam Hussein to comply with U.N. demands and show he has given up his weapons of mass destruction.
But he added: "The prospect of military action is now much more probable and I greatly regret that. But it is not inevitable."
Britain has sent 40,000 troops to the Persian Gulf for a possible war, and Prime Minister Tony Blair wants a second U.N. resolution to face down domestic opponents who say a war without it would be immoral and possibly illegal.
Britain has led the quest for a new resolution. But France, Russia and China -- all of which have veto-power and want weapons inspections to continue -- have rejected a British six-step proposal as it would give a green light for military action.
On Sunday Blair, his Spanish counterpart Jose Maria Aznar, and U.S. President Bush are scheduled to hold talks in the Azores Islands in the Atlantic Ocean aimed at rescuing the resolution from probable U.N. failure.
The prime minister met with Cabinet colleagues at his Downing Street office Saturday ahead of the Azores summit.
One Cabinet minister has threatened to resign if Britain joins a war without U.N. approval and other government ministers may follow. Blair is keen to secure unity in his Cabinet ahead of the talks, which Charles Kennedy, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, described as a council of war.