Prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende has written to parliament to say the cabinet now accepts that ‘a more adequate legal mandate’ was necessary for the US and Britain to invade Iraq.
The statement comes just one day after the prime minister responded to a highly critical report on the Dutch involvement in Iraq by saying the legalities of the war were ‘a difference of opinion’.
The report, published on Tuesday by a seven-strong panel of experts, stated that UN motions were not an adequate legal basis for the invasion, that parliament had not been fully informed and that ‘more nuanced’ Dutch intelligence information had been downplayed.
The prime minister’s initial response led to sharp divisions within the three-party cabinet. Main coalition party Labour was not part of the government in 2003 and opposed the war. Labour MPs were furious at the statement, which Balkenende claimed was approved by Labour leader Wouter Bos.
The three coalition party leaders spent most of Wednesday in crisis talks to draw up a new response to the report. In Wednesday evening’s letter, the prime minister said: ‘Based on what we know now, the cabinet accepts that a more adequate legal mandate would have been necessary for such an action.’
Labour’s parliamentary leader Mariëtte Hamer said the new statement meant the report had been ‘removed from the waste bin’.
But opposition MPs were not so easily appeased. Alexander Pechtold, leader of the Liberal democratic party D66, said he had to ask if Balkenende’s initial dismissal of the report was due to ‘the arrogance of power’ or ‘clumsiness’.
Commentators said on Thursday the new statement appeared to have headed off a cabinet crisis.
Before the parliamentary debate on the letter, Balkenende said this was not the right moment for a crisis – referring to the economic problems facing the country.
More on this
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Prime minister disagrees with Iraq report
MPs shocked by Iraq report
No legal basis for Iraq war, says report
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