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Britain challenges U.N. to stand up to Iraq

Sunday, September 15, 2002

UNITED NATIONS -- Britain challenged the United Nations on Saturday to stand up to Iraq's defiance of Security Council resolutions, echoing the demand issued by President Bush under threat of unilateral U.S. military attack.

"We have not just an interest but a responsibility to ensure that Iraq complies fully with international law," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the 190-nation General Assembly. "We have to be clear to Iraq and to ourselves about the consequences which will flow from a failure by Iraq to meet its obligations."

Britain's position closely mirrored Bush's call to the United Nations to confront the "grave and gathering danger" posed by Iraq. Germany, another close U.S. ally, remains opposed to military force and called for the United Nations to intensify pressure on Iraq to admit inspectors and find a political solution.

"The Security Council and the member states have to make unequivocally clear to Baghdad that the unrestricted and unconditioned readmission of the weapons inspectors in the only way to avert a great tragedy for Iraq and the whole region," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fisher told the General Assembly.

'Show some backbone'

Pounding away at the challenge he outlined Thursday in his U.N. speech, Bush said Saturday the United Nations should "show some backbone" and confront Saddam. Standing alongside another strong ally, Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, at his Camp David retreat, Bush said the United States would act alone if necessary.

"Make no mistake about it. If we have to deal with the problem, we'll deal with it," Bush said, calling the standoff as much a test of the United Nations as of Saddam.

While key council members said they would support setting a deadline for the return of inspectors, none backed the use of force.

Straw told reporters after a meeting Friday of the council's five veto-wielding members -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- that there was "complete unanimity about the imperative of getting the weapons inspectors back into Iraq." But members wanted more time to discuss formulating a new resolution on Iraq, possibly setting a strict deadline for complying.

In his speech to the General Assembly on Saturday, Straw never referred directly to the use of force, but made clear that Britain believes there must be consequences if Saddam refuses to admit inspectors.

"We cannot let Iraq go on defying a decade of Security Council resolutions," Straw said. "We must require Iraq to re-admit inspectors with unfettered access. If we fail to deal with this challenge, the United Nations itself will be seriously weakened."

Fisher called Saddam's regime "a brutal dictatorship" that has attacked its neighbors and "is horrendous for the Iraqi people and a risk for the region."

But he advocated multilateral action involving the United Nations to deal with Iraq, not any automatic use of military force, noting that Afghanistan is not yet stabilized. He also said "explosive regional conflicts in Kashmir, in the Middle East and in the Caucasus have to be solved, or at least effectively contained."

Many nations remain opposed to unilateral military action against Iraq, although they broadly support U.S. goals. Russia and China have called for a political settlement; France has proposed a two-step approach to get Saddam to comply.


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