US, Britain outnumbered on council that favours caution

 

UN/BLIX REPORT: The US and Britain were firmly outnumbered by other nations at the Security Council, most of which counselled more cautious action than that favoured by Washington and London.

The French Foreign Minister, Mr Dominique de Villepin, reacted to Dr Blix and Dr ElBaradei's reports by saying that UN inspections in Iraq were showing results and the use of force was not justified at this time.

"There is an alternative to war - disarming Iraq through inspections," he said. "Inspections are producing results ... The option of inspections has not been taken to the end. The use of force would be so fraught with risk for people, for the region and for international stability that it should only be envisioned as a last resort."

In a highly unusual reaction, his comments drew applause from observers in the chamber.

The Syrian Foreign Minister, Mr Farouq al-Shara, said the inspections were making substantial progress and war against Iraq would lead to "total anarchy".

"Substantial progress has been made in the work of the inspectors ... The inspections are bringing about important results," he commented.

Germany's Foreign Minister, Mr Joschka Fischer, who chaired the meeting, said the inspectors should get the time they need to successfully complete their search for Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

"The inspectors have scored some successes," he told the council. "Why should we now halt the inspections? On the contrary, the inspectors must be given the time they need to successfully complete their tasks."

He reiterated that Germany supported France's proposal to increase the number and technical resources of the inspectors in Iraq.

"Diplomacy has not yet reached the end of the road," he added.

But Britain's Foreign Secretary, Mr Jack Straw, said there had to be "a dramatic and immediate change" in attitude by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein if war was to be avoided.

Mr Straw said he still believed war was not inevitable, but Iraq had not demonstrated the requisite degree of co-operation to comply with council demands that it scrap its weapons of mass destruction.

"I hope and believe that a peaceful solution to this crisis may still be possible, but this will require a dramatic and peaceful change by Saddam. This will only be achieved if we, the Security Council, hold our nerve in the face of this tyrant."

It was clear that Baghdad was in "material breach" of the disarmament resolution, he said, warning council members against letting the Iraqi leader off the hook.

The US Secretary of State, Mr Colin Powell, took aim at members who called for continued weapons inspections, accusing them of refusing to face reality.

He said Iraq had not, was not and would not comply with UN disarmament demands and said the time was fast approaching for the world body to consider military action to enforce its requirements.

"We now are in a situation where Iraq's continued non-compliance and failure to co-operate - it seems to me, in the clearest terms - requires this council to begin to think through the consequences of walking away from this problem or the reality that we have to face this problem."

Mr Powell, in a clear minority on the council in dismissing recent Iraqi moves to co-operate with the inspectors, said many of the 15 members would rather ignore the situation.

"So many of you would rather not have to face this issue, but it is an issue that must be faced," he said.

He said he was pleased that Iraq had agreed to allow U2 spy plane flights over its territory and that President Saddam had also issued a decree banning weapons of mass destruction programmes.

But these were "tricks" designed to fool the international community into believing that Iraq was complying by co-operating only in process and not in substance.

Russia's Foreign Minister, Mr Igor Ivanov, said inspections were proceeding smoothly and it was not yet time to consider the use of force against Baghdad.

"Force can be resorted to, but only when all other remedies have been exhausted. As can be seen from the discussion today, we have not yet reached that point, and I hope we will not reach that point," he said.

China - which, like Russia and France, is a permanent member of the council and so could veto any joint US-UK new resolution authorising force - also said the inspectors must be given more time.

Beijing's Foreign Minister, Mr Tang Jiaxuan, said: "We must do our best and use all possible means to avert war ... It is necessary for the inspection work in Iraq to continue."

Other members of the council who favour giving the inspectors more time include Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan.

But Bulgaria's ambassador, Mr Stefan Tavrov, sided with the US and Britain, saying Iraq was in material breach of the UN resolution - but he added that his country wanted a peaceful solution.

The Spanish Foreign Minister, Ms Ana Palacio, agreed. Iraq had not co-operated and the council would have to assume its responsibilities, she said.