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UN: Former Communist States Voice Hard Line On Iraq In Security Council

Amid continued calls by many United Nations members for a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis, several former communist states have reiterated support for the U.S. position on disarming Iraq. Ambassadors from Macedonia, Albania, Latvia, and Uzbekistan, among others, have urged the UN Security Council to consider stronger measures to ensure Iraqi compliance with its disarmament obligations.

United Nations, 20 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A two-day debate on Iraq has concluded with more calls for the United Nations Security Council to avoid a military solution to the crisis but also with warnings for Baghdad to comply quickly with its disarmament obligations.

The tone of the debate, which included statements from more than 60 states not on the council, generally favored more weapons inspections and added pressure on Iraq.

But a small group of former communist states, speaking yesterday, backed the U.S. position that Iraq must now face serious consequences for defying the council. Most of these states said Iraq is in material breach of its obligations under Resolution 1441. They urged the council to consider the tougher moves threatened under the measure.

The statements came days after French President Jacques Chirac warned Eastern and Central European states to "keep quiet" on their support for U.S. policy on Iraq. France is the chief force on the council opposing military action against Iraq.

Most European Union candidate states declined to address the open meeting of the council, aligning with the statement issued by EU leaders on Monday.

But Latvian UN Ambassador Gints Jegermanis said Latvia also wanted to express its own views. Jegermanis said Latvia regards the use of force as a last resort but added that it was Iraq's responsibility to make sure the issue was resolved peacefully. "The credibility of the United Nations, and the Security Council in particular, is at stake here. And Latvia calls upon the United Nations Security Council to take the necessary and appropriate action in response to Iraq's continuing threat to international peace and security," Jegermanis said.

Albania's ambassador, Agim Nesho, also challenged the international community to be more resolute in dealing with Iraq. Nesho said quicker action by the world community in the 1990s could have helped avoid much bloodshed in Bosnia and Kosovo. "Vain promises and empty rhetoric about peace do not avoid crime and secure peace. Recently in the Balkans, we have suffered the fatal consequences that derive from the delay of necessary decision making from the international community," Nesho said.

Albania is one of the "Vilnius 10" countries (Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia) comprising former communist states hopeful of gaining membership in NATO. The group earlier this month issued a statement pledging to back the U.S. stance on Iraq, based on what members called the "compelling evidence" of Iraq's weapons programs.

Another "Vilnius 10" member, Macedonia, joined the small number of states yesterday that pressed for tougher council action. Macedonian Ambassador Srgjan Kerim said the threat of force must be maintained on Iraq to try to gain full compliance on inspections. "We have supported international efforts to achieve a peaceful disarmament of Iraq. However, it has now become clear that Iraq is in material breach of UN Security Council resolutions, including United Nations Resolution 1441," Kerim said.

Ambassador Alisher Vohidov of Uzbekistan, which provides a key base for U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan, said the United States had provided convincing arguments to support its move for tougher action against Iraq. "The solution does not lie in increasing the number of inspectors but in a change of Iraq's attitude to the issue of disarmament. The council has to take responsibility and undertake effective actions to force Iraq to implement Resolution 1441," Vohidov said.

As the speeches were under way in the chamber, U.S. and British diplomats continued to discuss a new council resolution that would set a final deadline for Iraqi compliance. It is expected to be presented in the next several days. British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock told reporters yesterday that the debate over the new resolution would likely go beyond 1 March, when chief UN inspector Hans Blix is due to present his next written report to the council.

The draft resolution is expected to say Iraq is in "further material breach" of November's Resolution 1441 and would give Baghdad one last opportunity to disarm or face serious consequences. The words "material breach" are considered legal justification for military force.

Iraq's ambassador, Muhammad al-Duri, concluded yesterday's debate by reiterating that his country possesses no weapons of mass destruction. He said Iraq would continue to cooperate constructively with inspections to disprove charges that it had such weapons.