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UN: Members Press For Peaceful Disarmament Of Iraq

Following a weekend of peace demonstrations, United Nations members are pressing the Security Council to work for the disarmament of Iraq without resorting to war. A two-day debate in the council, organized by the Non-Aligned Movement, has opened with repeated appeals to avoid war, even by neighbors scornful of Iraq. But U.S. officials stress that Iraq's failure to comply fully with inspections already puts it in breach of its obligations and that it must face the consequences.

United Nations, 19 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Nearly two dozen United Nations member states have joined the voices urging the UN Security Council not to abandon efforts to settle the Iraq crisis through peaceful means.

Most of the 27 envoys who began a two-day debate in the council on Iraq yesterday expressed support for the continuation of inspections by UN monitors. The meeting, requested by the 115-member Non-Aligned Movement, is to continue today with about 30 more states set to address the council.

Many speakers on the first day echoed the comments of permanent council members France, Russia, and China at the 14 February meeting with the chief UN inspectors.

They said it is premature to discuss a military solution as long as inspectors are intensifying their investigations into Iraq's nuclear, biological, chemical, and missile programs. Many endorsed a French proposal to make the inspections more rigorous.

South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said the inspection process is working. "None of the information provided thus far would seem to justify the Security Council abandoning the inspection process and immediately resorting to the threatened, quote 'serious consequences,' unquote," Kumalo said.

Kumalo also said a team of South African experts is en route to Iraq to help it resolve its disarmament issues. UN inspectors have praised South Africa for its moves a decade ago to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program.

Several of Iraq's neighbors, speaking after Kumalo, scorned the policies of the Iraqi government but expressed concern about the impact of war. Kuwait's UN envoy, Mansour al-Otaibi, said Iraq's failure to resolve its weapons issues mirrors its refusal to resolve the fate of Kuwaiti individuals and property missing since Iraq invaded his country in 1990. But he also said Kuwait hoped military force would be a last resort.

Iranian Ambassador Javad Zarif was sharply critical of both Iraqi behavior and U.S. policy. Zarif said Iranians continue to suffer the effects of chemical weapons used against them in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s and that his country remains deeply concerned about Iraq's disarmament. But the Iranian government, he said, sees no reason for what he called the "rush-to-war rhetoric" to enforce the resolution adopted by the council last November. "We agree that Resolution 1441 is about disarmament and not inspections. But we believe that while the chief inspectors are signaling their intent to continue to work, there is no ground for aborting the process and embarking on military action with all its known and unknown devastating consequences," Zarif said.

Turkey's UN ambassador, Umit Pamir, noted the economic hardships his country and the region faced after the previous Gulf War. He said Turkey seeks a peaceful end to the crisis, solved through the Security Council. But the chief responsibility rests with Iraq, Pamir said. "We should recognize that intense diplomatic efforts backed by a credible force posture still seems to be, especially in this case, the most plausible means to achieve progress. After all, the immediate, unconditional, and complete disarmament of Iraq is still the serious concern it has been since 1991," Pamir said.

But Iraqi UN Ambassador Muhammad al-Duri, who also addressed the council, again said his country no longer possesses weapons of mass destruction. He accused the United States and Britain of using the issue as an excuse to launch a war against Saddam Hussein's government.

U.S. and British diplomats at the UN this week have been discussing the possibility of a second resolution that would authorize force against Iraq. But diplomats from both countries say they are waiting until the open debate is finished today before presenting any draft language to fellow council members.

U.S. President George W. Bush yesterday repeated Washington's position that it already has justification for using force against Iraq but would prefer Security Council backing. "A second resolution would be useful, but we don't need a second resolution. It's clear [Saddam Hussein] could [not] even care less about the first resolution. He's in total defiance of [UN Security Council Resolution] 1441, but we want to work with our friends and allies to see if we can get a second resolution. That's what we're doing right now," Bush said.

Council diplomats from countries that support and oppose the U.S. position told RFE/RL yesterday that they believe a compromise among council members will be difficult, given the differing interpretations of Resolution 1441. Most council members prefer continuing some form of toughened inspections regime.

Washington's ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, told reporters yesterday that the council still has not acted on the suggestion by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin to hold another meeting of foreign ministers on 14 March.

Chief UN inspector Hans Blix is set to provide his next progress report to the council on 28 February.