PRISTINA, Yugoslavia - Iraq's firing on U.S. and British aircraft enforcing "no-fly" zones in Iraq is not a violation of the latest Security Council resolution, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Tuesday.
Contradicting the United States' interpretation of Resolution 1441 on Iraq adopted two weeks ago, Annan indicated that the Security Council would not see such action by Iraq as a trigger for war.
"Let me say that I don't think that the Council will say this is in contravention of the resolution of the Security Council," Annan said when asked if Iraq was violating 1441 by firing at alliance planes, as Washington contends.
Key Security Council member, Russia, also on Tuesday dismissed the U.S. claims.
"Recent claims that Iraq's actions in the "no-fly" zones can be seen as a violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution 1441, have no legal grounds," the Russian foreign ministry said.
The United States is alone among the 15-member Security Council member states in insisting that the no-fly zones are included in the resolution and that firing on the aircraft policing the two zones is therefore a breach of 1441.
This has raised concerns over whether Washington, that says Iraq has stockpiles of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons technology, could use this as an automatic trigger for war.
The resolution demands that Iraq reveal and abandon all weapons of mass destruction and threatens serious consequences if it is found to be "in material breach" of UN provisions.
On Monday, after Iraqi troops again fired on allied aircraft, a White House spokesman said their action was "...a violation. It is a material breach."
The spokesman said President Bush's policy on Iraq's adherence to the resolution was one of "zero tolerance" and its actions against allied aircraft would be assessed and reviewed, with the possibility of bringing them before the Council.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld later toned down the argument, saying the action was "unacceptable" but it was up to Bush and the Security Council to "make judgments about their view of Iraqi behavior over a period of time."
An advance team of U.N. weapons inspectors arrived in Iraq on Monday after a four-year break to fulfill a U.N. mandate to search for any stocks of doomsday weapons that Iraq may have.
Baghdad does not recognize the flight exclusion areas set up by the Unites
States and its Western allies after the 1991 Gulf War to prevent Baghdad from
attacking rebellious Kurds in the north. Another zone to protect Shi'ites was
set up in the south.
Copyright 2002 Reuters Ltd