As UN Assembly opens annual high-level debate, US President states case against Iraq

As UN Assembly opens annual high-level debate, US President states case against Iraq

President Bush speaks to UN Assembly
As Heads of State and government from across the globe gathered at United Nations Headquarters in New York today for the opening of the General Assembly's annual high-level debate, President George W. Bush of the United States laid out his case against the current Iraqi regime and, pledging to work with the Security Council, called for a concerted global response.

As Heads of State and government from across the globe gathered at United Nations Headquarters in New York today for the opening of the General Assembly's annual high-level debate, President George W. Bush of the United States laid out his case against the current Iraqi regime and, pledging to work with the Security Council, called for a concerted global response.

Reviewing Baghdad's failure to comply with UN resolutions adopted in the wake of its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, President Bush said that Iraq - in violation of the Council's key counter-terrorism resolution - also "continues to shelter and support terrorist organizations that direct violence against Iran, Israel, and western Governments." In the meantime, Al-Qaida terrorists "are known to be in Iraq" and Baghdad maintains weapons of mass destruction. "Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons," he said, adding that UN inspections revealed that Iraq "likely maintains stockpiles of VX, mustard and other chemical agents, and that the regime is rebuilding and expanding facilities capable of producing chemical weapons." The country also "continues to withhold important information about its nuclear programme" and possesses long-range missiles.

Calling Iraq's conduct a threat to the UN's authority, President Bush said the world body's legitimacy hung in the balance. "Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?" he asked. Urging Baghdad to comply with its international obligations, he pledged that the US "will work with the UN Security Council to meet our common challenge," but warned that "if Iraq's regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively to hold [it] to account." The aims of the US "should not be doubted: the Security Council resolutions will be enforced…or action will be unavoidable," he said.

Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa, highlighted the importance of the newly formed African Union (AU) in tackling the continent's problems. With international support for both the AU and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), he voiced confidence that "we will transform this into an African Century." The UN and the AU must give priority to such matters as modernizing Africa's economy, dealing with the "intolerable" debt burden, accelerating the empowerment of women, and combating diseases like AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

President Mbeki also hailed the outcome of the just-concluded World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. The gathering, he said, "confronted the stark reality that billions of people across the globe are poor, and boldly confirmed the need for us to collaborate for a shared human prosperity through sustainable development." The President stressed the critical importance of implementing all of the agreements reached at Johannesburg "with the necessary sense of urgency."

Peru's President, Alejandro Toledo, sounded three major themes: the international fight against terrorism, limited defence spending in South America to free up resources for social investment, and strengthened democratic systems "as one important step in the battle against poverty." Concerning the scourge of terrorism, he emphasized the need to work "always within the framework of international law, democracy and respect for human rights." He added that Peru's support for anti-terrorist measures stemmed from the country's "more than 15 years of the violence of terrorism that cost more than 20,000 lives and millions of dollars in material losses."

On wider security concerns, President Toledo said Peru supported the Andean Charter for Peace and Security, which aimed to establish a regional zone of peace, promote trust, and reduce external defence expenses. With regard to the promotion of democracy, he elaborated on Peru's own steps to re-establish the full freedoms of its citizens, strengthen national institutions, and combat corruption. Seeking to enable other countries to reach similar goals, he proposed the creation of a "Mechanism of Financial Solidarity for the Defence of Democracy and Good Governance" which would support emerging democracies.

Speaking at the outset of the debate, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Lafer pointed out that many countries have been "burdened by the costs of globalization while at the same time being deprived of its benefits." He stressed that protectionism and other forms of trade barriers "continue to suffocate developing economies and to nullify the competitiveness of their exports." In order to reach "the globalization we aspire for," it would be necessary to reform economic and financial institutions, he said, adding, "it must not be limited to a triumph of the market." Concerning the situation surrounding Iraq, he said, "Brazil believes it is incumbent on the Security Council to determine the necessary measures to ensure compliance with the relevant resolutions."