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Breakfast with Frost
Shashi Tharoor, UN under-secretary general
Shashi Tharoor, UN under-secretary general
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: SHASHI THAROOR, UN UNDER-SECRETARY GENERAL MARCH 16th, 2003

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: The dramatic differences of opinion expressed by individual members of the Security Council have arguably done nothing to strength the reputation of the United Nations. The United States has repeatedly said that if necessary they will invade Iraq without the backing of the UN, without the second resolution. Though Kofi Annan has said that this would directly contravene the UN charter. Last night, I spoke to Shashi Tharoor, the United Nations Under-Secretary General and asked him first about the legality of an attack on Iraq. Is Resolution 1441, without the backing of a second resolution, sufficient? Sufficient to give legal authority for an attack?

SHASHI THAROOR: Well the only expert opinion that counts is that of the Security Council collectively because it's a longstanding principle of the United Nations that the Security Council is the master of its own interpretations. It looks like I'm ducking the question, but the fact is each resolution speaks for itself and those who have been empowered by the resolution then have to say what exactly they think they're doing with it. This whole exercise has been one of the council trying to find unity around deciding how to implement 1441 under preceding resolutions. That seems to me to be the real issue here today.

DAVID FROST: But Kofi Annan said that in fact without a specific UN resolution, and I quote, it would not be in conformity with the charter.

SHASHI THAROOR: That's correct. His point was that the charter envisages very, very clear basis' for legal action to enforce its own resolutions. And normally that means a Security Council resolution explicitly authorising that sort of action.

DAVID FROST: Would it be legal? That also is open to doubt too, 50-50.

SHASHI THAROOR: Well I wouldn't say 50-50, nothing is ever quite that straightforward. There are nuances and a great deal depends on interpretation. We do know, for example, that when the attack on Afghanistan occurred it was actually authorised under the self defence provisions of the charter, article 51. Even though there was no immediate, if you like, war going on from Afghanistan, the fact that 9/11 had occurred with an attack being in effect harboured by the people who ran Afghanistan at the time, self defence was considered acceptable. So there are various ways in which these things can be interpreted. The basic principle the Secretary General was trying to point to though, goes beyond legality into the issue of legitimacy. There is a feeling that legitimacy is both a legal issue and a political issue, an issue of whether an action is seen by the world at large and by the public opinion of the world, as carrying the stamp of global approval.

DAVID FROST: What about the nightmare scenario that says that this whole thing, if the United States is rejected, if the United States withdraws from the UN, withdraws its funding from the UN, the UN could be on the verge of being the League of Nations.

SHASHI THAROOR: Well I, I don't really accept that analogy at all, for two good reasons. First, as far as the League of Nations is concerned, by the 1930s, frankly, two of the world's three leading powers at the time, the US and Germany, the third being Britain, were not even members. There was no forum in which the League of Nations could influence their behaviour, whereas the United Nations attracts every single country on earth. But second, and more important I think, is that the United Nations is much larger than Iraq. The issues before the United Nations transcend any one problem, however critical or however important it may be. Because, just as Iraq is going on, the world is grappling with all sorts of other problems, from Cyprus to the Congo, from the deadly confluence of AIDS and famine and drought in Southern Africa to issues of human rights around the world. Refugee problems, climate change issues - all sorts of problems on which the world has to work together and where the United States remains keenly engaged with other members in the United Nations.

DAVID FROST: Our thanks to Shashi there.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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