Downing Street to White House: ‘UK would be in breach of international law if it facilitated pre-emptive strike on Iran’

US Politics
on 12 Comments

Big news from the UK — Downing street has “rebuffed” US requests to use UK military bases to support a preemptive attack on Iran. The rejection includes the use of any US bases on British territory for the buildup of forces in the Gulf. This  would prohibit the use of US bases on Ascension Island in the Atlantic and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

The reason? Because they do not consider Iran “a clear and present threat” therefore a preemptive attack on Iran would be in breach of International law. How refreshing.

The Guardian, Iran military action not ‘right course at this time’:

The UK government has reiterated that it does not believe military action against Iran would be appropriate at the moment, following the disclosure that Britain has rebuffed US requests to use UK military bases to support the buildup of forces in the Gulf.

Downing Street said: “We are working closely with the US with regard to UK bases” but “the government does not think military action is the right course at this point of time”.


They have pointed US officials to legal advice drafted by the attorney general’s office and which has been circulated to Downing Street, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence.

It states that providing assistance to forces that could be involved in a pre-emptive strike would be a clear breach of international law on the basis that Iran, which has consistently denied it has plans to develop a nuclear weapon, does not currently represent “a clear and present threat”

“The UK would be in breach of international law if it facilitated what amounted to a pre-emptive strike on Iran,” said a senior Whitehall source. “It is explicit. The government has been using this to push back against the Americans.”


“But I think the US has been surprised that ministers have been reluctant to provide assurances about this kind of upfront assistance,” said one source. “They’d expect resistance from senior Liberal Democrats, but it’s Tories as well. That has come as a bit of a surprise.”

The situation reflects the lack of appetite within Whitehall for the UK to be drawn into any conflict, though the Royal Navy has a large presence in the Gulf in case the ongoing diplomatic efforts fail.

The U.S. is not talking:

A US state department official said: “The US and the UK co-ordinate on all kinds of subjects all the time, on a huge range of issues. We never speak on the record about these types of conversations.”

(Hat tip Mondoweiss commenter seafoid)

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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12 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    October 26, 2012, 4:32 pm

    I can understand the haters. We’ve always had bigots. But with the USA sporting the biggest army in the world and annually spending as much as most of the rest of the world combined on so-called defense, I cannot understand why regular people are fearful. If they think we might nevertheless be attacked, they should be ANGRY at that HUGE EXPENDITURE FOR NAUGHT.

  2. mikeo
    October 26, 2012, 5:19 pm

    About bloody time…
    Israel and the US grow ever closer together – the US and the UK grow apart.
    What was that about “closest allies” again?

  3. HarryLaw
    October 26, 2012, 7:04 pm

    At last the junior partner has grown a set of cojones, better the US knows now the lunacy of boxing yourself into a position where there is no way out but escalation, as Obama has done, lets hope the coalition of the willing remains the US/Israel.

  4. ToivoS
    October 26, 2012, 7:35 pm

    This is good news out of England. I am puzzled about where they stand. It was just this last spring that the Guardian reported, according to anonymous sources in the military and government, that they were preparing to join the US in war against Iran. Now what was that all about? At the time I found this report difficult to believe but still the Guardian has a lot of credibility.

    • Bumblebye
      October 26, 2012, 10:00 pm

      Back in the 60’s, Washington was furious that PM Harold Wilson would not join in the Vietnam misadventure. They even plotted against him.
      In 1973, PM Ted Heath refused to allow the US to deliver various goodies to Israel via UK. That caused a real heavy falling out.
      In the 80’s, Thatcher was boiling over Grenada, then the Tripoli bombing, which the US failed to request permission to use Britain as “Airstrip One”.
      It seems it was only during the Blair years we were such craven pygmies falling in behind everything dubious US presidents wanted to do.

  5. David Doppler
    October 26, 2012, 7:51 pm

    Thanks, Annie. What is ironic is the US must be reminded of its obligations under international law by Great Britain. This is because Neocons have been given too much free reign, and realists have been banished. It will be interesting to see the coverage of this development, and whether the candidates will comment.

  6. Annie Robbins
    October 26, 2012, 9:47 pm

    there’s some confirmation in the guardian article regarding the meeting with iran after the elections too. not one on one but still good news:

    With diplomatic efforts stalled by the US presidential election campaign, a new push to resolve the crisis will begin in late November or December.

    Six global powers will spearhead a drive that is likely to involve an offer to lift some of the sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy in return for Tehran limiting its stockpile of enriched uranium.

    The countries involved are the US, the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China. Iran will be represented by its chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili.

  7. radii
    October 26, 2012, 10:52 pm

    shutting down neocons and “greater israel” one move at a time

  8. seafoid
    October 27, 2012, 4:51 am

    There is a huge difference between the political systems in Britian and the US. The main point is that in Britain you don’t have 200 oligarchs funding the whole system and deciding that what is good for Israel is good for the country. British media isn’t split into 2 mutually unintelligible echo chambers either.

    Fox wouldn’t work in the UK . Murdoch owns Sky which broadcasts there but it is on a different planet compared to Fox.

  9. DICKERSON3870
    October 27, 2012, 8:52 am

    RE: “Downing street has ‘rebuffed’ US requests to use UK military bases to support a preemptive attack on Iran.” ~ Annie Robbins

    NEOCON RESPONSE: Those lily-livered limeys!


  10. kalki
    October 27, 2012, 11:20 am

    Seafoid: ” British media isn’t split into 2 mutually unintelligible echo chambers either. ”
    The most eloquent of descriptions of what the American media has reduced itself to!! Though with Murdoch around, the British media is not out of the woods.

  11. examinator
    October 27, 2012, 9:55 pm

    Yet again I find myself agreeing with Chomsky to a point.
    From this speech we can make some clear conclusions
    – the 1945 realization by Britain that they are very much a junior partner in world issues now. As such neither the US or Israel really cares what UK does.
    – that the CORPORATISED MSM is simply the mouth piece for Corporatising Government. it has done a wonderful job in conditioning the US public to the notion that as the No1 they are justified in doing what is necessary to support and advance this corporate power. MSM have do this by selective and or emotive biased reporting . Simply put it’s in MSM’s corporates to have a distractionary common villain.
    – UK as a junior partner simple must be careful how much/hard it criticises the USA and as such its condemnations must be muted even weak. Keep in mind the USA and Israel ignores the UN charter generally and will crush any democracy if it becomes too much of a problem. It has a long long record of this. Israel like the CIA with tacit support of the US, ignores national sovereignty to execute/murder pesky dissenters with impunity. One could fairly note that the Corporatising of the US Government under the fanciful notion of Homeland security is progressively limiting their own nation’s democracy as is Israel.

    In short I’m not that excited by the UK’s token stance.

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