In the shadow of imminent war, the Security Council today discussed reports from the two top United Nations arms inspectors on key tasks for ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and also emphasized the importance of humanitarian aid to that country in the event of armed conflict.
While Council members voiced their support for the work of Hans Blix, Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), and Mohamed ElBaradei, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), they reiterated their previous positions on how to proceed with the disarmament of Iraq. Despite those differences, however, Council members agreed on the need to prevent a humanitarian disaster for the Iraqi population in case of conflict.
Opening the debate, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said his country "emphatically rejects the impending war." Pointing to recent improved cooperation, Mr. Fischer said: "Why should we now - especially now - abandon our plan to disarm Iraq with peaceful means? The United Nations is the only appropriate framework for this. No one can seriously believe that disarmament by wars are the way forward." He also stressed his concern for the human consequences of war and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's readiness to propose measures to mitigate them.
Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin of France said war could be only the last resort, with collective responsibility being the rule. "Whatever our aversion for Saddam Hussein's cruel regime, that holds true for Iraq and for all the crises that we will have to confront together," he said. He added that the choice was between those who wanted to resort to force for a speedy resolution of complex issues and those, like France, who proposed resolute action over time. "The Iraq crisis allowed us to craft an instrument through the inspections regime, which is unprecedented and can serve as an example," he said. "Why, on this basis, not envision establishing an innovative, permanent structure, a disarmament body under the United Nations?"
Russia's Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, said the inspectors, if allowed to continue their work, had everything necessary to conclude the disarmament process peacefully. If there were indisputable facts demonstrating that from the territory of Iraq there was a direct threat to the security of the United States, then Russia, without hesitation would be prepared to use all the means available under the UN Charter to eliminate such a threat, he said. But the Security Council was not in possession of such facts. That was why the Russian Federation preferred a political settlement relying on the activities UNMOVIC and IAEA, which enjoyed the complete trust of the international community.
Farouk Al-Shara', Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Syria, the Council's only Arab member, said that within hours a war of aggression would be unleashed in Iraq. The majority of the Council, he added, had rejected the adoption of a resolution authorizing the use of force. He categorically rejected the feverish calls for war, which he said had no moral or legal justification.
Pakistan's Permanent Representative, Munir Akram, regretted that the Council had been unable to find agreement. He said Pakistan believed that every peaceful avenue should have been exhausted before resorting to force. It was now important to decide how to address the humanitarian challenges in the days to come, he said. The time and space for diplomacy never ended. Even once the guns spoke, the duty of the Council was to restore peace and security and prevent the suffering of the people in Iraq.
Mexico deplored that it had not been possible to arrive at a decision to continue disarming Iraq, Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser told the Council. Now was the time for the Council to analyze the tasks that lay ahead. That must be done with a collective responsibility and a clear understanding of the forthcoming challenges, first among them, coping with the humanitarian situation in Iraq and, in the event of war, the country's reconstruction. The Council should take action immediately to restore the mandates that had been suspended with the withdrawal from Iraq of UN staff.
Speaking for the United States, Ambassador John Negroponte commended UNMOVIC and IAEA for their efforts to implement inspections under difficult circumstances, but regrettably the two reports were now overtaken by the reality on the ground. In the meantime, the Council would be faced with the humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people, which was an issue to which the US Government had dedicated significant resources, he said. The Government had planned for all United Nations development agencies to be prepared to administer necessary relief as soon as possible.
Ambassador Martin Belinga-Eboutou of Cameroon said the Council should continue to play its role as the body responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security. His delegation had carefully examined the programme of work prepared by UNMOVIC and it could be a good basis for future work, he said. He hoped trust would soon be restored among Council members, since the United Nations was the only framework to protect peace.
Spanish Ambassador Inocencio Arias said President Saddam Hussein bore sole responsibility for the suspension of inspections through his pattern of deceit and his choice to openly choose the path of confrontation. He said he was concerned about the humanitarian dimension in Iraq, for which measures must be taken. He supported the initiative to introduce a draft resolution on that question.
Ambassador Gabriel Valdés of Chile said the Council should have persisted in the task of inspections and he was convinced that the inspections were capable of achieving the international community's objective - the peaceful disarmament of Iraq. In the weeks to come, Chile would tackle the challenge of coping with the "burden of horror" that the war would bring down on millions of Iraqis, he said. The Council would have to work untiringly to protect lives and restore the peace.
Angolan Ambassador Helder Lucas deplored the fact that the inspectors had been unable to fulfil their tasks and that Iraq had failed to convince the international community that it was making genuine efforts to disarm. Angola had consistently defended a peaceful solution and reiterated that the use of force should be the last resort, he said. Now that the diplomatic solutions seemed exhausted and war seemed inevitable, the Council should continue to play its role in facing the immense tasks of the post-war period for reconstruction of Iraq.
China's Permanent Representative, Wang Yingfan, said that, in light of recent progress, he believed it was possible to achieve the goal of disarming Iraq peacefully. No one should put an end to the road to peaceful disarmament. China was ready, together with the Council and the majority of Member States, to assist the Council in shouldering its responsibilities.
Bulgarian Ambassador Stefan Tafrov commended the inspection teams led by Mr. Blix and Mr. ElBaradei, and said the suspension of their work should not call into question the usefulness of inspections in general. Inspections would remain a necessary tool to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction but Iraq had failed to use its last chance to implement Council resolutions on disarmament. He said Bulgaria was deeply committed to multilateralism and he was convinced that the Council would maintain its role in preserving international peace and security.
For his part, Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said the United Kingdom also stressed the need ensure rapid humanitarian assistance to Iraq. He hoped that together the countries of the United Nations would make rapid progress on that issue. He said it was Iraq's refusal to comply with UN resolutions that had given rise to the current situation but emphasized that the United Nations had a central role to play in Iraq and on issues associated with it. He continued to see an important role for UNMOVIC and IAEA in carrying out further monitoring in the future.
Foreign Minister François Lonseny Fall of Guinea, which holds the Council Presidency for March, said his country believed in the possibility of safeguarding peace and achieving the common objective of the complete disarmament of Iraq. If an armed conflict was inevitable, appropriate steps should be taken to spare the civilian population and limit the damage to the infrastructure. He agreed in advance to any proposal by the Secretary-General to cope with the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people.
Invited to address the Council, Iraq's Permanent Representative, Mohammad Aldouri, reiterated that Iraq no longer possessed weapons of mass destruction and said the United States and the United Kingdom, by failing to provide evidence to the contrary, had exposed their real intentions, namely the occupation of Iraq and controlling its oil wealth. The dire humanitarian effects of military aggression meant tens of thousands of casualties, complete destruction to infrastructure and spread of epidemics and diseases, he said.