WILLIAMSBURG, Va. - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned the United States on Saturday against making war on Iraq on its own, arguing collective action under a U.N. umbrella would have greater legitimacy and better odds of success.
In an address marking the 310th anniversary of William and Mary College, Annan also stressed that force should be used only as a last resort.
But if the U.N. Security Council concludes, after a key report by U.N. inspectors due on Friday, that Iraq is not disarming as required by a string of resolutions, "the council must face up to its responsibilities," he said in prepared remarks.
"When there is strong U.N. leadership, exercised through patient diplomatic persuasion and coalition-building, the United Nations is successful. The United Nations is most successful to all its members, including the United States, when it is united and works as a source of collective action rather than discord," he said.
"The broader our consensus on Iraq, the better the chance that we can come together and deal effectively with other burning conflicts in the world, which cause untold suffering and which urgently need our attention: From Israel and Palestine to Congo and Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), not to mention our efforts to stabilize Afghanistan," he said.
President Bush has warned Baghdad that time is running out for it to disarm on its own and is sending troops and equipment to the region in preparation for a possible war.
The U.S. administration has argued it needs no further action by the Security Council to disarm Iraq by force under Resolution 1441 adopted on Nov. 8 and other earlier resolutions.
But Bush has left open the door to an additional council measure authorizing military action, although it is far from clear at this time that such a measure could garner the necessary nine votes and no vetoes in the 15-nation council to be adopted.
France, in particular, has warned repeatedly that force should be used only after all possibilities for a peaceful resolution of the crisis have been exhausted, and has made clear its view that that point has not yet been reached.
Annan warned that war "is always a human catastrophe" and said the entire international community -- including "first and foremost the leaders of Iraq itself -- have a duty to prevent this if we possibly can."
While Iraq has not yet satisfied the Security Council that it has fully rid itself of any weapons of mass destruction, "this is an issue not for any one state, but for the international community as a whole," he said in a clear reference to Washington.
"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," Annan said.
"States and people around the world attach fundamental importance to such legitimacy, and to the international rule of law," he said.
Annan said Secretary of State Colin Powell had made a "strong" presentation to the council last Wednesday on Iraqi arms programs that had "undoubtedly strengthened" the hand of chief inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei as they once again this weekend pressed Baghdad to more fully cooperate with their efforts.
But if Iraq "fails to make use of this last chance, and continues its defiance, the council ... must face up to its responsibilities," he said.
"Our (U.N.) founders were not pacifists. They knew there would be times when force must be met by force," he said, expressing the hope that the council would act in a united fashion so as to maximize its credibility and effectiveness.
Copyright 2003 Reuters