Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the United Nations, warned yesterday against
any military assault on Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein while violence rages between
Israel and the Palestinians.
His stance, spelt out on the same day the UN Security Council was considering
an invitation from Iraq to resume talks on readmitting weapons inspectors, appeared
to reflect recent thinking in London. Tony Blair also wants America to focus on
Middle East peace talks before taking action in Iraq.
Mr Annan said: "It would be unwise to attack Iraq, given the current circumstances
of what's happening in the Middle East." After talks with the 15 Security Council
ambassadors, Mr Annan stopped short of rejecting an invitation by Iraq to the
chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, to travel to Baghdad to discuss a return
of the inspectors. The secretary general said he would ask Iraq to clarify whether
it was ready to allow the monitors back.
With the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal about to sail to the Mediterranean
for an exercise that could be converted into attacks on Baghdad, pressure was
continuing to grow on the Government to resist an American-led rush to war.
Lord Healey, a former Labour defense secretary, and Lord Hurd of Westwell,
a former Tory foreign secretary, called for any action to be approved by the UN.
Writing today in The Independent, Lord Healey hints that an unsuccessful
campaign in Iraq could lead to Mr Blair's downfall. Four senior Anglican bishops,
led by Dr Rowan Williams, the next Archbishop of Canterbury, have signed a petition
to be presented to Downing Street today, condemning an attack.
In Germany, Gerhard Schröder, the Chancellor, went
further than any other European leader when he criticized US "war games" and
said his country would not send troops or help finance a military assault.
Mr Annan said yesterday that all Security Council members wanted the inspectors
readmitted. The UN is afraid Iraq is trying to reopen negotiations on the manner
of the inspectors' return, which has already been laid down in UN resolutions.
"We have to get them [the Iraqis] to understand that the Council has given certain
instructions to Mr Blix ... If they accept to work with him on that basis, the
invitation would be looked at in a different light."
A nervous Iraq sought to influence the Security Council discussions by sending
a letter to all members except Britain and America. The letter argued that the
Iraqi leadership was offering talks to avoid the sort of stand-offs that had triggered
punitive attacks. Otherwise, the letter said, there was the risk that the "difficulties
and crisis will return and will be followed by the departure of the inspectors
and then the US will call for aggression on Iraq as we saw during 1991-1998".
The White House dismissed a second
invitation from Baghdad yesterday to the US Congress to send a delegation
to visit sites in Iraq suspected of holding weapons of mass destruction.
Downing Street played down the significance of the dispatch of the Ark
Royal for a "long-planned exercise". A spokeswoman also rebuffed demands,
led by Tam Dalyell, Labour MP for Linlithgow and father of the House, for a recall
of Parliament before Britain took any military action.
© 2002 lndependent Digital (UK) Ltd