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Iraq: Putin Stresses UN Importance; Straw Warns Against Inaction In Face Of Threats

The debate over UN legitimacy and the war in Iraq continues to dominate the UN General Assembly session. Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw -- representing the final two Security Council powers to speak -- both cited the primacy of the United Nations in confronting terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. But while Putin emphasized solving problems through the UN, Straw warned against inaction in the face of threats.

United Nations, 26 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin says the United Nations will have to play a lead role in Iraq's reconstruction to help it find what he called a "worthy place" in the world community.

Putin's comments came yesterday in the UN General Assembly in a speech emphasizing the United Nations' importance in international security matters. But he did not press for a swift hand over of power to Iraqis, as called for by France.

The Russian president also focused on terrorism, noting that when he addressed the same body three years ago, he called terrorism the greatest threat to world peace. At the time, he said, people disregarded the assertion -- at least until 11 September 2001, when the United States became a terrorist target.

Putin stressed that future threats need to be dealt with through collective action: "We should counter today's threats to civilization only with those collective responses whose legitimacy is not in doubt. We need a systematic vision that combines political and, when necessary, military measures -- measures that are coordinated, reasonable, and adequate."

About an hour later, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw addressed the General Assembly, echoing some of the same concerns expressed by U.S. President George W. Bush on 23 September. Straw also remarked on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's opening speech, which warned that the United Nations is facing a difficult choice of how to deal with security threats such as terrorism.

"We have indeed come to a fork in the road. Down one route lies a world in which the United Nations strengthens its role as a collective instrument for protecting our peace and security. But down the other route lies a world in which collective action becomes a synonym for inaction. We must not take the second route," Straw said.

Straw also addressed the criticism that the United States and Britain faced for going to war in Iraq without the explicit approval of the UN. Straw said that under the circumstances, unilateral action was the only option.

"We do not have the luxury simply of rejecting unilateralism while proposing no multilateral means of confronting and dealing with these threats," Straw said.

In his speech, Putin chose not to address the U.S. and British motivations for the war. As for the occupation of Iraq, he did not mention any urgency in restoring sovereignty to the Iraqi people, as French President Jacques Chirac did. The Russian president did call for a strong UN presence in Iraq, however.

"Only direct participation by the United Nations in the rebuilding of Iraq will allow its people to decide on their future themselves. And only with active and, I stress, practical assistance by the United Nations in its economic and civil transformation will Iraq assume a new and worthy place in the world community," Putin said.

Straw did refer to Iraq's sovereignty, and he summed up the U.S. and British position in a way that seemed to leave room for negotiations.

"The timetable [for restoring Iraqi sovereignty] should be driven by the needs of the Iraqi people and their capacity progressively to assume democratic control, rather than by fixing arbitrary deadlines," Straw said.

Some reports suggest it could take several weeks for the United States to win passage of the Iraq resolution in the UN Security Council.

But yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell indicated there has been a narrowing of differences among the permanent five Security Council members on a new resolution. Washington is hoping the resolution paves the way for more troop contributions and reconstruction aid for Iraq.

Powell cited the improvement in positions after discussing Iraq at a luncheon with Annan, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Straw, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing. All were in New York for this week's General Assembly session.

And in an interview today in "The New York Times," Powell says Washington is now considering imposing a six-month deadline for Iraqi leaders working under the U.S. administration to produce a new constitution.

Powell met yesterday in New York with members of the Iraqi Governing Council. He said they did not agree on a timetable for a transfer of political power from the U.S.-led coalition, but that they had reached an important understanding.

"I think we did converge on the understanding that you [need] a democratic political process that rests on a constitution and elections that flow from that constitution, and that's been the subject of some debate over the last week or so, but I think we all have a common understanding," Powell said.

While Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder met earlier this week with Bush at a New York hotel, Putin will be the U.S. president's guest this weekend at Camp David, the presidential retreat in the countryside outside Washington.

Both Bush and Putin have made much of the friendship they say blossomed at their first meeting in 2001. That Bush will again be Putin's host indicates the friendship has not suffered because of their differences over Iraq.