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16 March 2003: The Azores summit sets the stage for the War on Iraq

Blair, Bush and Aznar made the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
Blair, Bush and Aznar made the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. / SUR
  • what happened today?

  • The American, British and Spanish leaders decided to go to war against Iraq

On 16 March 2003, US president George W Bush, UK prime minister Tony Blair and Spanish prime minister José María Aznar sat down together for emergency talks at what became known as the 'Azores summit'.

The meeting took place on the island of Terceira. Officially, the aim was to discuss the prospects of a UN resolution on Iraq, but it was here that the three leaders took the decision which resulted in the War on Iraq beginning four days later.

At a press conference immediately after the meeting, President Bush said they were working toward the great cause of peace and security in this world. "We concluded that tomorrow is a moment of truth for the world" he announced.

"Many nations have voiced a commitment to peace and security. And now they must demonstrate that commitment to peace and security in the only effective way, by supporting the immediate and unconditional disarmament of Saddam Hussein. The dictator of Iraq and his weapons of mass destruction are a threat to the security of free nations. He is a danger to his neighbours. He's a sponsor of terrorism. He's an obstacle to progress in the Middle East.... Saddam Hussein has proven he is capable of any crime. We must not permit his crimes to reach across the world," said Bush.

In his address, José María Aznar said the three leaders had not come to the Azores in order to make a declaration of war, but that international law has to be respected and so do UN resolutions. "We are well aware of the international world public opinion, of its concern. And we are also very well aware of our responsibilities and obligations. If Saddam Hussein wants to disarm and avoid the serious consequences that he has been warned about by the United Nations, he can do so. And nothing in our document, nor in our statement, can prevent him from doing so, if he wants to. So his is the sole responsibility," he said.

Tony Blair said Saddam Hussein had been playing games with the international community for 12 years and would continue to do so, and that it was very important for the international community to give him a strong and unified message. "We will do all we can in the short time that remains to make a final round of contacts, to see whether there is a way through this impasse. But we are in the final stages, because, after 12 years of failing to disarm him, now is the time when we have to decide," he said.

The war on Iraq, which the US dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom, lasted from 20 March to 1 May 2003 and succeeded in ridding the world of Saddam Hussein. However conflict continued for much of the next decade. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found in Iraq.

In Spain there had been strong public feeling against Aznar's decision to declare war on Hussein, and in 2004 one of the first things new prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero did was to fulfil his manifesto commitment to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq.