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UN: Annan Says Security Council Is Proper Forum For Further Actions Against Iraq

  • Robert McMahon

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says he hopes talks today with Iraq's foreign minister will lead to a resumption of UN weapons inspections in the country. But if the talks fail, Annan says it should be up to the UN Security Council to decide further action. Annan, speaking last night at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, also said Afghanistan needs a more robust international security presence to aid in its recovery and reconstruction.

New York 7 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will meet Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri today at UN headquarters in New York to discuss Security Council demands that UN inspectors be allowed to resume work in Iraq.

The UN wants its inspectors to assess Baghdad's claim that it has dismantled its weapons of mass destruction. The inspectors left Iraq in 1998 and have not been allowed back since.

A Security Council resolution offers to consider suspensions of sanctions if Iraq cooperates fully with inspectors. Iraq has never recognized the resolution, however, and insists it has eliminated its weapons of mass destruction.

Indications of possible U.S. military action against Iraq are believed to have contributed to Baghdad's decision to request talks with the UN secretary-general. The United States has labeled Iraq part of an "axis of evil" intent on exporting terrorism and has asserted its right to take unilateral action if necessary. But other permanent Security Council members -- namely, France, Russia, and China -- say military action against Iraq is unjustified.

Annan -- speaking last night to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York -- said that if today's talks fail, any further punitive measures for continued Iraqi defiance should be authorized by the UN Security Council, which established the resolutions setting up weapons monitoring teams for Iraq.

"If there is going to be further action, from the UN point of view and my point of view, it would be better if the Security Council acts again. If the Security Council were to determine that we need to take further action and to take an appropriate decision, we would."

Annan said, in response to questions, that he hopes his talks with Sabri today will find a "constructive way" to resume inspections and confirm Iraqi compliance after 11 years of sanctions. He stressed the burden is on Iraq to comply with UN resolutions: "Let me say that the UN program in Iraq is not a sanctions program. It is a disarmament program. And we have not succeeded in disarming [them]."

Iraqi arms control officials, as well as the head of the UN monitoring commission, Hans Blix, will also attend today's meeting.

The secretary-general, after giving an address on conflict prevention, also spoke about Afghanistan. He said the country is a classic case where abandonment by the international community in the past had widespread consequences. He said the current UN-led recovery effort in Afghanistan has no choice but to engage in nation-building -- a term criticized by the U.S. government -- because of the implications of a destabilized Afghanistan. The United States, Annan said, has become engaged in that effort.

But he cautioned that Afghanistan's reconstruction cannot begin until its security situation dramatically improves. Annan said the International Security Assistance Force -- authorized by the Security Council to patrol the Kabul area -- is likely to be extended beyond its six-month mandate. But he said many countries still consider an expansion of the force beyond Kabul too risky.

He said the emphasis by the international community on training Afghan police and an Afghan national army -- an approach favored by Washington -- does not address the country's short-term security needs. The current lack of security outside Kabul, he said, hampers humanitarian efforts and slows the pace of foreign donations and investment in the country: "Our capacity is limited, and we need to rely on the governments and those on the ground to create the secure environment to allow us to get our work done and also to allow recovery and reconstruction."

Asked about efforts to establish a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC), Annan said the body could play a key role in issues such as deciding the status of Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. The United States has faced criticism from a number of UN members because it considers detainees from both fighting forces to be "unlawful combatants" and not eligible for the full rights of prisoners of war as provided in the Geneva Conventions.

The United States is a critic of the ICC, which is expected to garner the required 60 country ratifications later this year to help it come into force. The U.S. is still undecided about playing a role in shaping the court.

Annan said he believes the U.S. will decide to support the court once it is established. He cited the 1982 Law of the Sea treaty -- creating a universal legal framework for the management and conservation of marine resources -- as an example of an international instrument the U.S. initially rejected but has chosen to observe in practice. He called the ICC the missing link of international criminal law, which would replace the practice of setting up of ad hoc tribunals.

"How many special tribunals are you going to set up? Isn't it easier to have one permanent criminal court to establish this link and make sure that we do punish these criminals, horrible leaders who need to be punished? And I think when the time comes, the U.S. will be with us and with the court."

The ICC is one of many components Annan cited during his speech as crucial to creating a culture of conflict prevention rather than the more common culture of reaction. He said that on a national and regional level, states also must promote human rights, protect minority rights and institute representative political arrangements under the rule of law.

He also stressed the need for development assistance and private sector investment to spur weak countries toward economic growth and away from conflict.

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