United Nations, 17 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The ambassadors of France and Germany say they continue to hold out hope for a final diplomatic solution to the Iraqi crisis.
France's UN ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, told reporters that the majority of UN Security Council members believe it is still possible to disarm Iraq through peaceful means. "Members of the [Security] Council repeatedly stated that -- and it is a majority in the council -- that it would not be legitimate to authorize the use of force now while the inspections set up by resolution are producing results," de La Sabliere said.
German Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said chief UN inspector Hans Blix will present the council today with a list of remaining disarmament tasks for Iraq. He said this gives the council a final chance to reach a common position on how to disarm Iraq.
The ambassadors spoke after the United States, Britain, and Spain informed the council they will not put to a vote their resolution that would authorize war.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who also attended the meeting, said any military action against Iraq not authorized by the council would not be seen as legitimate. "If the [military] action is to take place without the support of the [Security] Council, its legitimacy will be questioned and the support for it will be diminished," Annan said.
Annan said that "war is always a catastrophe" and described today as a "sad day for everybody."
Also today, Annan said he has ordered all UN staff to withdraw from Iraq in advance of expected military action from a U.S.-led coalition. Annan told reporters that the order includes UN weapons inspectors, humanitarian workers, and peacekeepers monitoring the Iraq-Kuwait border.
The secretary-general said the United Nations will "find a way" to resume humanitarian activities in Iraq. "This [UN withdrawal from Iraq] does not mean that, should war come to Iraq, that the UN will sit back and not do anything to help the Iraqi population. We will find a way of resuming our humanitarian activities to help the Iraqi people, who have suffered for so long," Annan said.
The order means the suspension of the oil-for-food program, which provides crucial humanitarian aid for Iraqi civilians.
Annan's order came amid widespread evacuations of foreign workers from Iraq. Germany, China, and Pakistan are among the countries closing their embassies in Baghdad. Russia advised its nationals to leave Iraq.
In related news, stock markets in the United States and Europe have risen sharply after the U.S. and its allies ended diplomatic efforts to win UN approval for a resolution backing a war against Iraq.
The two main U.S. stock indices -- the Dow Jones industrial average and the Nasdaq -- surged on the news that the United States, Britain, and Spain withdrew their resolution in the face of insurmountable opposition from other Security Council members. Stock markets in London and Paris also rose, erasing earlier losses.
Traders say the reason is because investors welcomed the end of uncertainty over the Iraq crisis, and believe a U.S.-led war on Iraq will be short. For the same reason, the U.S. dollar rose against the euro, and oil prices dropped.
The price of gold and U.S. government bonds -- considered "safe havens" in times of uncertainty -- also dropped.