Differences over how to gauge Iraqi cooperation with UN disarmament efforts remain strong, 10 weeks since the Security Council passed a resolution threatening "serious consequences" in the event of Iraqi noncompliance. A Security Council meeting of foreign ministers has highlighted fresh divisions on the issue of military force against Iraq. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says council members have an obligation to ensure Iraq disarms, but the foreign ministers of France and Germany say military force would undermine the more important global struggle against terrorism.
United Nations, 21 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Key members of the United Nations Security Council have cast fresh doubts on the ability of the council to maintain a unified front in its efforts to ensure that Iraq is not pursuing weapons of mass destruction.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw yesterday criticized the efforts of Iraq to cooperate with inspectors. Both said Iraqi moves have been inadequate and that time is growing short before military force should be considered.
In contrast, the French and German foreign ministers, Dominique de Villepin and Joschka Fischer, respectively, seemed to have ruled out force as an option. The foreign ministers of Russia and China called for more time to solve the crisis.
The ministers were in New York for a Security Council session dedicated to improving global efforts at fighting terrorism. The Iraq crisis was raised during the open session, and the issue dominated bilateral talks on the sidelines.
Powell called on the council to meet its responsibilities to disarm Iraq. He told reporters afterward that Iraq is not taking the latest council resolution seriously. "There is no question that Iraq continues not to understand the seriousness of the position that it's in, and this is the time for it to realize that we will not just allow Iraq to frustrate the will of the United Nations, of the international community," Powell said.
Security Council Resolution 1441, adopted in November, says that false statements or omissions in Iraq's weapons declaration and a failure to cooperate with inspections would constitute a further "material breach." That could lead to military action, depending on the decision of the council.
The United States has said it is prepared to lead a coalition of forces without council backing to assure Iraqi compliance. It has launched a buildup of military forces in the Persian Gulf region, and Britain has committed thousands of troops to the effort.
Straw told the council that Resolution 1441 envisioned military force as a way of ultimately ensuring Iraqi compliance. "He must either resolve this crisis peacefully by the active compliance with his Security Council obligations and full cooperation with inspectors or face the serious consequences, the use of force, which this council warned would follow when it passed Security Council Resolution 1441," Straw said.
But other council members said UN inspectors, only recently up to full strength, must be given the opportunity to follow through on their field work to detect nuclear-, biological-, or chemical-weapons programs.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told the council that Russia favors a political settlement of the Iraq crisis. Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said before the meeting that UN inspectors should have more time to search for Iraqi weapons after 27 January, when chief inspectors Hans Blix and Muhammad el-Baradei are to give their first major report to the council.
German Foreign Minister Fischer, whose country this month joined the council as a nonpermanent member, praised the work of inspectors. And in comments to reporters, he repeated Germany's opposition to the option of military force: "We will not be part of military action as the Federal Republic of Germany, and we want to avoid military action by a success in the implementation of [Resolution] 1441 based on the work of inspectors."
Fischer told the council earlier that Germany's top priority is fighting international terrorism. He said Berlin views military action against Iraq as a distraction from that effort, which carries dangerous risks.
But Powell, in his address, said the council must be willing to fulfill its obligations to disarm Iraq. "We cannot fail to take the action that may be necessary because we are afraid of what others might do. We cannot be shocked into impotence because we are afraid of the difficult choices that are ahead of us," Powell said.
The French foreign minister, de Villepin, spoke firmly about the need for full Iraqi cooperation with inspectors. But he told a news conference that nothing justifies military action. In addition, the foreign minister said, with inspectors on the ground in greater numbers, Iraq is unable to pursue any new programs for weapons of mass destruction. "Since we can disarm Iraq through peaceful means, we should not take the risk to endanger the lives of innocent civilians or soldiers, to jeopardize the stability of the region, and further widen the gap between our people and our cultures. We should not take the risk to fuel terrorism," de Villepin said.
Blix and el-Baradei yesterday concluded two days of meetings with Iraqi officials in Baghdad in which they agreed on some new measures for making inspections more effective.
Iraqi officials agreed to encourage scientists in their weapons programs to do private interviews with UN inspectors. They also pledged to expand the list of experts they had provided UN authorities and to step up the search for any more chemical rocket warheads similar to the 16 discovered in recent days.
Blix and el-Baradei have repeatedly pressed the Iraqis to provide more answers to unresolved questions raised by the previous UN weapons-inspection mission before it ceased work four years ago.