United Nations members have begun a lengthy debate in the Security Council aimed at finding a non-military solution to the dispute with Iraq over weapons inspections. Representatives primarily from countries in the non-aligned movement and Middle East states have urged the Council to dispatch inspectors before considering military threats. But many speakers in the debate have also called on Iraq to permit unfettered inspections to avoid further Council action. RFE/RL's UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.
United Nations, 17 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- As the United States continues to raise the threat of military action against Iraq, a number of members of the United Nations have called on the Security Council to solve the crisis over weapons inspections through peaceful means.
An open meeting requested by the non-aligned movement, begun yesterday (Wednesday), was the first chance for UN members to discuss in the Council the proposals for toughening weapons inspections.
The permanent five members remain divided over how to proceed. A new draft resolution may not come under full discussion by the Council until next week.
The United States is pressing for a single resolution authorizing the use of force if Iraq fails to comply with inspections. France, backed by Russia and China, prefers a two-track approach that provides for a first resolution laying out a strong mandate for inspections.
Many representatives at yesterday's debate appeared to support either the French proposal or said no additional resolution on Iraq was necessary.
The chairman of the 115-nation non-aligned movement, South African ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, said the Security Council would be violating the spirit of the UN Charter if it authorized military force at a time when Iraq was signaling its willingness to follow Council resolutions:
"It would indeed be tragic if the Security Council were to prejudge the work of inspectors before they set foot in Iraq. There will be enough time for the Security Council to review the work of the inspectors since Dr. Blix and his teams are required to report progress to the Security Council."
Chief UN inspector Hans Blix has already discussed with Iraqi officials some of the practical arrangements for resuming inspections. But he says he will not send a team back to the country until he receives a clear mandate from the Security Council.
Ambassadors from Arab and Middle Eastern states spoke out strongly against military action. Many said it was unjustified or could destabilize a region already roiled by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Even Kuwait, which Iraq invaded in 1990, said the use of force must be a last resort and only after other available means have been exhausted in the UN system. But Kuwait's ambassador, Mohammad Abulhasan, also criticized Iraq's refusal to settle the issue of more than 600 mostly Kuwaiti citizens missing since the 1990 Gulf War.
Iraqi ambassador Mohammad al-Douri told the Council that Iraq was free of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. He said after the morning session he was satisfied with the direction of the debate:
"All positions [and] declarations were a message of peace instead of a threat of occupation, and I am satisfied with what has been said right now in the Security Council."
But speeches in the later session yesterday were more mixed, with Iraq coming under criticism from neighboring Iran and Turkey.
Iran's ambassador Javad Zarif condemned any move toward unilateral military action against Iraq and expressed sympathy for the plight of its citizens. But he said after the Iraqi regime's behavior in the 1980s and 1990s, which included a lengthy war with Iran, Baghdad now has the burden of proving it is free of weapons of mass destruction:
"The onus now rests on the Iraqi government to efface every doubt about its intention to allow unfettered weapons inspections everywhere in the country. We call upon Iraq to take every necessary step to avert catastrophe for the sake of its own people, all peoples in the region and international peace and the rule of law."
And Iraq has still failed to signal it will allow unconditional inspections, says Turkey's ambassador Umit Pamir. He told the Council it needs to send Iraq a strong signal that it is united by adopting a new resolution establishing a tougher inspections regime:
"We hope that the text of such a resolution will display the unanimity of the Security Council, will empower the inspectors with an effective mandate and will, at the same time, incorporate clear provisions for cases of both compliance and non-compliance."
Of the 30 speakers who addressed the Council on the first day of the Iraq debate, Australia's ambassador John Dauth appeared to come closest to the U.S. position that Iraqi disarmament must be confronted actively.
Dauth said Australia is convinced that Iraq still wants to develop weapons of mass destruction and is a threat to share them with terrorist groups. He cited the recent terrorist bombing in Bali, where many Australians were killed, as a reminder that terrorist threats must be dealt with wherever they appear:
"If there is one thing September 11 and October 12 highlight it is that one cannot allow threats to international security to go unaddressed."
Earlier yesterday, U.S. President George W. Bush repeated that Iraq could avoid war by surrendering its suspected weapons of mass destruction and permitting inspectors to visit any site in Iraq without delay.
The president spoke after signing a resolution of the U.S. Congress that gives him authority to wage war against Iraq if necessary.
The UN Security Council debate, meanwhile, continues today with more than 30 speakers expected to address the Iraq issue.