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UN: No Bid For Security Council Authority As U.S. Considers Options

After the terrorist attacks on the United States, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution expressing its readiness to "take all necessary steps" in response. But a further resolution would be needed for the UN to formally authorize military action, and there is no immediate sign that such authority is being sought by Washington.

United Nations, 18 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The United States continues to express its hope for building an international coalition to battle terrorism, but it is so far unclear whether it will seek UN authority for any possible military action.

A number of nations, from both the Islamic world and Western Europe, have said in recent days that a UN resolution might be needed to sanction any military action against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban movement. But there has been no formal demand for such authority.

For the time being, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush continues to actively seek assistance in its declared war on terrorism from a wide range of nations. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has repeatedly expressed appreciation for the support the United States has received internationally, both individually and from regional and world bodies.

Powell noted again yesterday that nationals from 37 countries are among the more than 5,000 people feared dead in the 11 September terrorist attacks in Washington and New York. He told reporters that most nations see terrorism as a "scourge upon civilization" that must be fought.

"I'm very pleased that more and more people around the world recognize the nature of this campaign, recognize that we have to get involved, recognize it's not going to be solved in one day or one week, but it will be a long-term campaign."

The 15-member UN Security Council has reacted by adopting a resolution expressing its readiness to take all necessary steps to respond to the terror attacks of September 11. But that falls short of authorization for military action.

The United States could act unilaterally under international law. The UN Charter's Article 51 permits the right to self-defense if "an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security."

Diplomats at UN headquarters yesterday did not expect a U.S. request for Security Council authorization any time soon.

Ruth Wedgwood, an expert on international law at the Council on Foreign Relations, doubts the United States will seek such authorization. Wedgwood says the United States does not want to face the scrutiny of its military plans, given the nature of both the council and the war on terrorism.

"First of all, we're not going to want to signal who we're going to hit, and the Chinese, particularly with Third World sensitivities, may want to know how we are going to use force before they vote to authorize it, so we can't tell them."

China has said it is ready to join the United States in fighting terrorism and has supported measures in the past year toughening sanctions against the Taliban. But it has also warned that military intervention will aggravate terrorism and violence.

The United States has already received a strong vote of support from NATO, which could lead to collective action by the alliance.

French President Jacques Chirac today is traveling to Washington for a meeting with Bush. He has repeatedly expressed solidarity with the United States, but other French government ministers have also expressed concern about avoiding what they call a "clash of civilizations" between the West and Islam. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer also will travel to the U.S. today for talks with top government officials.

A European Union mission is also due in Washington this week, for meetings with Secretary of State Powell and others. The EU mission is led by Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten and Javier Solana, the EU's high representative for foreign policy.

Meanwhile, at UN headquarters, representatives of UN member states met in private yesterday about whether to postpone the start of the General Assembly debate, set for 24 September. Diplomats have indicated the session will likely be postponed until November, in part because of security limitations by New York police. A formal decision is expected tomorrow. New York law enforcement officials in the city have been on high alert since 11 September and have already closed off the avenue in front of UN headquarters as a precaution.

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard says Secretary-General Kofi Annan is not playing an active role in the U.S. efforts to build an anti-terror coalition. He said Annan has tried to be a voice of moderation amid mounting reports of acts of violence against Arabs in the United States. Eckhard says:

"I think [Annan's] trying to point people in the right direction as far as not overreacting and not attacking innocent civilians."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, told reporters he will be heading to Washington today for meetings with U.S. policy makers. He said he wants to heighten awareness about the humanitarian consequences of any military action against Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

But Lubbers also stresses that the United States is within its rights to fight terrorism due to the events of 11 September:

"A war against terrorism is a globally accepted principle. I think there is no divide, and I don't see even as a high commissioner for refugees that I should say, 'No, don't go for action against terrorism.' Of course, this is key, and a convincing reaction to what happened is needed."

The refugee agency says millions of Afghans face starvation and homelessness now that aid workers have fled Afghanistan in advance of what they expect will be U.S. attacks. The United Nations says it expects major population movements by Afghan civilians and that the possibility exists for widespread deaths as a result.