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Annan 'optimistic and hopeful' Iraq can be disarmed peacefully

Annan 'optimistic and hopeful' Iraq can be disarmed peacefully

Stressing that United Nations inspectors in Iraq were only now getting up to full speed, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today said he believed it was premature to talk about war before the monitors report to the Security Council again later this month.

"I don't think from where I stand we are at that stage yet," the Secretary-General said when asked at a press conference whether there should be a military attack on Iraq even if no weapons of mass destruction are found. "The inspectors have a responsibility in Iraq, the Council has asked them to pursue the disarmament programme and report back, and then [it] will make a determination if Iraq has performed or not."

"If disarmament were to succeed that is the end of the story," he said in response to questions on Security Council follow-up to Resolution 1441. "Otherwise, the Council will have to face up to its responsibilities and take the necessary action."

Above all, the Secretary-General said he was both "optimistic and hopeful" that war in Iraq could be avoided. "If we handle this situation right and the pressure on the Iraqi leadership is maintained, and the inspectors continue to work as aggressively as they are doing, we may be able to disarm Iraq peacefully without need to resort to war," he told the press conference, which covered a broad range of issues including nuclear proliferation in the Korean peninsula, the seemingly endless violence in the Middle East and the problem of Cyprus.

Mr. Annan added that the inspectors are just now getting up to full speed. "They are now quite operational and able to fly around and get their work done," he said. "I think we should wait for the update that they will give to the Council on [27 January] and hear what further instructions the Council gives them."

Asked whether the Iraqis are fully cooperating, or whether there is a need for more pro-active cooperation, the Secretary-General said the inspectors have determined that there are major gaps in Baghdad's arms declaration that need to be filled, and that they would prefer Iraq to be pro-active in cooperation. Mr. Annan said he expected that issue to be one of main topics of conversation when the Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), Hans Blix, and the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, go to Baghdad next week.

In response to several questions about the need for new action by the Security Council, the Secretary-General said that he thought "we can have a second resolution," noting that the Council would discuss the matter, and that he hoped it would decide on any serious consequences.

As for the humanitarian consequences of a war in Iraq, the Secretary-General said the UN is extremely worried about the consequences of military action and has been doing some contingency planning. "We do not want to be caught unprepared," he said, noting that the UN has been in touch with governments that can provide financial assistance. The consequences of war could be quite substantial and negative on refugees who have to leave.