U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan warned the United States yesterday not to declare war on Iraq without Security Council agreement, saying that the issue affects, and must be decided by, "the international community as a whole."
"What happens in Iraq does not take place in a vacuum," Annan said in a speech at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. "It has implications for better or worse for other issues of great importance to the United States and to the world." Those issues include the struggle against international terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and "a host of other burning conflicts," from the Israeli-Palestinian dispute to Afghanistan and wars in Africa, he said.
As the Iraq situation has unfolded in recent months, Annan has urged the council to maintain unity and try to avoid war. But yesterday's remarks were his sharpest and most direct message to the Bush administration.
They came as the council, the 15-member U.N. enforcement body, appeared headed toward one of the most serious crises in its 57-year existence. Annan and many others believe that a definitive break over what to do in Iraq, with the United States declaring the council irrelevant and going its own way, could destroy the United Nation's authority in dealing with international conflicts.
President Bush made clear yesterday that he feels equally strongly that the council's only legitimate choice is to follow the U.S. lead. In his weekly radio address, Bush accused Baghdad of failing to cooperate with U.N. inspectors, concealing chemical and biological weapons, and harboring terrorists who want to use them against the United States.
"The Security Council must not back down" when its demands "are defied and mocked by a dictator," he said. Bush's words were taken nearly verbatim from a statement he made Thursday after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell presented evidence to the council that he said proved Iraq was concealing weapons from inspectors.
Inspectors reported Jan. 27 that Baghdad had not fully cooperated with their efforts. Pending a new assessment to the council next Friday, the administration plans to declare Iraq's time is up, and has indicated it then expects the council to authorize disarmament by force.
If it does not, Bush repeated yesterday, "the United States, along with a growing coalition of nations, will take whatever action is necessary to defend ourselves and disarm the Iraqi regime." Only a handful of countries, including Britain, have said publicly they would be part of a U.S.-led military action against Iraq, although others have said they might participate under a U.N. umbrella.
France, Russia and China, three of the five permanent council members with the power to veto resolutions, have said inspections must be given more time before the use of force is considered. Annan agreed with them yesterday, saying that "inspections can work, as we know from the experience of the early 1990s," when an initial inspection effort located and destroyed large quantities of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
Annan said the council "did not shirk its duty" in 1990, when it agreed to use military force to remove Iraqi invaders from Kuwait. "A broad coalition of forces was patiently assembled under United States leadership," he said. "No less than 11 of the 26 countries that sent forces to help free Kuwait were Muslim countries. There is a lesson there that remains highly relevant today."
In a separate action yesterday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah agreed in Amman, Jordan, that the inspections should be given more time. The two leaders, Reuters reported, "expressed their hope that the crisis would be resolved under the umbrella of the United Nations."
At the Vatican, Pope John Paul II called for additional efforts to avoid a war. "We can't stop when faced with either terror attacks or the threats that are on the horizon," the pontiff said. "We should never resign ourselves, almost as if war is inevitable." John Paul is scheduled to meet with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz on Friday; Annan is expected to travel to Rome to discuss Iraq Feb. 18.
Yesterday, Annan stressed that Iraq "still has not complied with all the obligations it accepted in 1991, under the terms of the cease-fire. In particular, it has not yet satisfied the Security Council that it has fully disarmed itself of weapons of mass destruction." After Bush called in September for a new U.N. commitment to disarm Iraq, the council unanimously agreed in November to send new inspectors and give Baghdad a "final opportunity" to cooperate, vowing to consider "serious consequences" if it did not.
"Today, it is thanks in large part to the firm challenge issued by President Bush and the pressure that followed it that the inspectors are back in Iraq," Annan said.
"If Iraq fails to make use of this last chance and continues its defiance," he said, "the council will have to make another grim choice, based on the findings of the inspectors, a choice more complex, and perhaps more fateful, than the one that it faced in 1990. When that time comes, the council must face up to its responsibilities."
The threat from proliferating weapons of mass destruction, Annan said, "is not an issue for any one state, but for the international community as a whole." The Bush administration has asserted a right to preemptively attack countries it says threaten the United States with such weapons. But in an oblique rejection of the U.S. doctrine, Annan said that "when states decide to use force, not in self-defense but to deal with broader threats to international peace and security, there is no substitute for the unique legitimacy provided by the United Nations Security Council."
"We all need to understand that the United Nations is not a separate or alien entity seeking to impose its agenda on others," Annan told William and Mary students after receiving an honorary degree. "The United Nations is us: you and me. . . . When there is strong U.S. leadership, exercised through patient diplomatic persuasion and coalition-building, the United Nations is successful and the United States is successful. . . . I ask all Americans present to keep this in mind."