Expressing frustration and alarm, U.S. President George W. Bush says Iraq's long defiance of United Nations disarmament resolutions has placed the UN's credibility in question. But his call for UN Security Council action on Iraq, at this stage, has been welcomed by a number of key UN members as a signal that Washington is willing to engage the international community in seeking a common approach to resolving the problems posed by Iraq.
United Nations, 13 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Key United Nations member states have welcomed U.S. President George W. Bush's call for new Security Council action on Iraq, although none would immediately commit to a course of coercive measures.
High-level representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council meet today in New York to discuss a new resolution on Iraq that would set a timeline for compliance with inspections. A senior Bush administration official told reporters Thursday that the representatives would be discussing the length of a timeline and related issues.
France, one of the permanent five, has suggested a three-week timetable for Iraq to comply. France's foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, told reporters he has seen an emerging consensus among countries about how to deal with Saddam Hussein's government. Villepin said France agrees with the United States about the threat posed by Iraq. "Iraq defies the authority of the Security Council, threatens to contribute to a new proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and constitutes a risk for the security of the region, for international security, and also for its people," Villepin said.
Villepin would not say what measures the council should take in the event of continuing Iraqi defiance. The body's main powers under the charter are to enforce sanctions, which Iraq already faces, or military action.
Britain, another permanent member and the closest U.S. ally on the council, embraced the Bush speech. Nonpermanent council members Bulgaria and Norway also welcomed the speech's call for council action in the face of Iraqi intransigence.
Noncouncil members, including most European states, Canada, and Pakistan welcomed Bush's apparent willingness to act through the United Nations after months of statements from U.S. officials promoting regime change in Iraq.
Bush's speech also advocated a change of regime. But he said there was still a chance for Iraq to signal a new openness and accountability by fully complying with Security Council resolutions on issues ranging from disarmament to the return of people missing since the Gulf War.
The cause of greatest concern, Bush said, were Iraqi efforts to build up stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and develop an infrastructure to produce and deliver nuclear weapons. He said the United Nations risked becoming irrelevant if it continued to allow Iraq to subvert its resolutions -- some dating back to the Gulf War -- on developing weapons of mass destruction.
Bush asserted the right of the United States to act against Iraq if necessary but he encouraged the UN Security Council to use its power to force Iraqi compliance. He repeatedly referred to Saddam Hussein's government as a mounting threat. "We cannot stand by and do nothing while dangers gather. We must stand up for our security and for the permanent rights and the hopes of mankind. By heritage and by choice, the United States of America will make that stand, and, delegates to the United Nations, you have the power to make that stand as well," Bush said.
Iraq's UN ambassador, Mohamed al-Douri, dismissed the Bush speech as a "series of fabrications." He told reporters that Bush's aims are rooted more in political ambition than concern about terrorism. "I would have been pleased if the U.S. president had talked about his true motives behind his speech: revenge, oil, political ambitions, and also the security of Israel and targeting every independent state that would refuse to adhere to the American policy," al-Douri said.
Iraq has repeatedly said it no longer possesses weapons of mass destruction. It is willing to talk to UN officials about the readmission of inspectors but wants to link such talks with the lifting of sanctions and other issues. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and a growing number of states are now calling on Iraq to allow inspections immediately and unconditionally.
Annan, who spoke before Bush, cautioned the United States against pursuing a unilateral course of action against Iraq. But Annan also called on Iraq to allow inspections and fulfill its obligations under council resolutions. Otherwise, he said, the Security Council "must face its responsibilities."
This was also the message of Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. "The European Union is determined to support the further effort of the United Nations to that end. We agree with the United States that this matter should urgently be dealt with by the Security Council. And we agree with the secretary-general [Kofi Annan] that if Iraq's defiance continues, the Security Council must face its responsibilities," Rasmussen said.
Villepin, the French foreign minister, said it is crucial now for the Security Council to present a united front and a simple message to Iraq in full agreement with international law. That approach, he said, would assure greater international acceptance of the council's actions. "A poorly prepared intervention would not resolve the long-term problem and could destabilize the neighboring countries and alienate public opinion in the region, although the regime in Baghdad is today very isolated," Villepin said.
Villepin said France supports a two-stage approach to dealing with Iraq. It proposes an initial resolution covering just the return of weapons inspectors followed by a second resolution if Iraq refuses. Russia, Iraq's main ally on the council, had no immediate response to the Bush speech. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov addresses the General Assembly today.