After being updated by the chief United Nations monitors on the weapons inspection process in Iraq, the Security Council held an open meeting today to debate the next steps for dealing with the disarmament of that country.
Opening the ministerial-level debate, Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Shara of Syria said that in their briefing today, the inspectors had noted the progress achieved since their last briefing. That meant that in just two weeks significant progress had been achieved. It was also significant that today Iraq had issued a decree prohibiting weapons of mass destruction in the country. That testified to the fact that inspections were accomplishing their goals, and the Council must continue to support the inspectors, allowing them sufficient time to carry out their task as prescribed in resolution 1441.
Continuing the discussion, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said France was convinced that the option of inspections had not been taken to the end and that it could provide an effective response to the imperative of disarming Iraq. The use of force would be so fraught with risks for people, for the region and for international stability that it should only be envisioned as a last resort. "War is always the sanction of failure," he said, calling for another meeting on 14 March at the Ministerial level to judge progress made.
Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear Valenzuela of Chile said that although the report from the chief inspectors pointed to some progress, it has also shown that the regime that governs Iraq has an ambivalent attitude to the inspections process. While there was hope that attitude might change, the failure to cooperate in some cases was evident. Maintaining pressure on Saddam Hussein's regime has proven to be the only mechanism capable of bringing about a certain openness and respect for the decisions of the Council.
As for Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, he said China believed that the inspection process was working and that the inspectors should continue to be given the time they needed to carry out resolution 1441. The Council should also step up its support for the inspections. The Iraqi issue bore on the peace and stability in the Gulf region and bore also on the Council's credibility and authority. The first priority now was to strengthen its guidance and support for the inspection work and to facilitate a productive political settlement.
Spain's Foreign Minister, Ana Palacio, said that as much as she had been eager to hear “just one word” that the Iraqi regime was complying without reservation or delay to the Council's demands, she had been unable to find it in the inspector's reports. Spain was resolutely in favour of the view that a solution to the crisis could be found within and through the Council. Still, if a change of attitude on the part of Iraq did not come, the Council should be able to live up to its responsibility and ensure the peace and security of the world.
For his part, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of the United Kingdom said that the issue was about the authority of the Council and the responsibility of the United Nations for the maintenance of international peace and security. He hoped and believed that a peaceful solution was still possible but would require Iraq to meet the obligations imposed on it. A peaceful solution could only be achieved if the Council held its nerve, gave meaning to its word and ensured that Iraq would face the consequences of its actions.
United States Secretary of State Colin Powell said the pressure must continue on Iraq and the threat of force should not be removed. Resolution 1441 was all about compliance and not about inspections, which were to assist Iraq in coming forward. He had not seen responsible actions on the part of Iraq, but rather "continued efforts to deceive, deny, divert, and throw us off the path." The Security Council was now in a situation where Iraq's continued non-compliance and failure to cooperate required it to begin to think through the consequences of walking away from that problem or from the reality that it had to be faced.
Igor S. Ivanov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, told the Council the inspectors must be provided with all possible assistance, as it was on the basis of their work that the 15-national body could make an enlightened conclusion. There is movement in the right direction, he said, urging Baghdad to continue its cooperation with international inspections. The Council had a unique opportunity to solve the problems by peaceful means. Force could be resorted to only when all other means had been exhausted.
Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez of Mexico said hearing today's reports reconfirmed his confidence in the inspections. If the inspections had not yielded the expected results thus far, it was the obligation of the Council to ensure that the inspections fulfilled their intended mission. Iraq must make full use of the final opportunity presented to it. The damage the conflict was having could be seen in increased political polarization, and a global economy that was suffering from uncertainty. Iraq's disarmament and an end to its non-compliance would help bring about an end to that situation.
Ambassador Mamady Traoré of Guinea said he advocated continued inspections, although not indefinitely. A reasonable additional time period would help yield consensus and bring together the different views around the Council table. He was concerned about the tension in the international community around the crisis and urged a direct and constructive dialogue among those with differing views in order to move beyond that tension, which could deal a harsh blow to the United Nations system. The Council must continue working together as one to attain its goal.
Pakistan's Ambassador, Munir Akram, said it was understandable that the patience of some important members of the Council was running out. The intention of resolution 1441 was that the process of discovery and destruction of weapons of mass destruction would be accelerated. At the same time, he noted the call for caution by several Member States. The Council could still unite around the need to secure the elimination of weapons of mass destruction through peaceful means. All people of good will desired that all peaceful means be exhausted before the Council decided to bring force into play.
For his part, Ambassador Martin Belinga-Eboutou of Cameroon emphasized the need for the Council to continue to safeguard its unity and cohesion. The progress made by the UN inspectors' recent mission to Baghdad reflected a noticeable change in Iraqi attitude. Further non-compliance with the demands of the Council would be one violation too many, and Iraqi authorities would leave the Council no other choice but to adopt, in unity, appropriate measures to have its decisions respected.
Angola's Ambassador, Ismael Abraão Gaspar Martins, said today's report provided a beacon of hope that it might be possible to save the world from an imminent conflict. The collective efforts of the Council, combined with military pressure, increased Iraq's level of cooperation with the inspectors. Simultaneously, that had advanced the cause of multilateralism by translating the consensual will of the international community to disarm Iraq, peacefully and with determination.
Ambassador Stefan Tafrov of Bulgaria said unfortunately, the Iraqi authorities were still in material breach of resolution 1441. All should realize that it is up to Iraq, not the inspectors, to prove unambiguously the absence of weapons of mass destruction. Bulgaria remained in favour of a peaceful settlement, but active cooperation by Iraq was indispensable. All types of pressure, political and military, should be exerted on Iraq, in order to achieve the goals set by the international community. A peaceful solution was still possible, if Iraq wilfully disarmed, as required by resolution 1441.
Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of Germany said inspectors must be given time to complete their mission. All possible options for resolving the Iraqi crisis by peaceful means must be explored. He strongly supported the proposals of France to increase the number of inspection teams and improve the technical resources at their disposal, for they helped ensure a response more appropriate to the size of the task. Military action against Iraq would endanger the stability of a tense, troubled region. The consequences to the near and Middle East would be catastrophic.
In concluding the debate, the Permanent Representative of Iraq, Mohammed A. Aldouri, said the inspectors had found no evidence contradicting Iraq's declaration, or bolstering the assertion of the United States on the presence of proscribed weapons programmes or of proscribed weapons themselves. He said that the Council should follow the vast majority of United Nations members by giving the inspectors all that they needed.
In another development, the Iraqi Mission to the United Nations informed the Secretary-General today that Baghdad had sent a letter to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva saying that Iraq would not be assuming the rotating presidency of the Conference, which they were scheduled to hold starting on 17 March.