UNITED NATIONS -
The veto-wielding permanent members of the Council, along with heavyweight China, stood united in calling for strengthened arms inspections in Iraq, implicitly ruling out the use of military force after morning presentations by lead U.N. arms inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei.
That left the United States and Britain, the other two permanent members, isolated in a 15-member Security Council that was overwhelmingly against military action.
In this image taken from video, people applaud as French Foreign Minsiter Dominique de Villepin finishes his remarks to the members of U.N. Security Council at the United Nations Friday, Feb. 14, 2003, during a session about on-going U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq. (AP Photo/via APTN)
Council President, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, admonished members for clapping after statements by French Foreign Minister Dominque de Villepin and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who ended his presentation saying, ''Today is Valentine's Day. And we should speak of love and engagement.''
Speaking to reporters immediately after addressing the Council, de Villepin said that inspectors should be given all necessary assistance to reinforce their search for evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. ''We have to keep the pressure on Iraq to ensure full compliance,'' he said.
De Villepin categorically rejected the need to introduce a second resolution that would advocate action against Iraq. ''We do not need a second resolution at this stage,'' he said, adding, ''if U.N. arms inspectors come back to the Security Council and say they cannot work anymore in Iraq, we can use all means, including force, to get compliance from Iraq.''
''This is not the time for (a resolution),'' he added. ''What is at stake is war and peace. We are trying to give peace a chance.''
Ivanov told the Security Council that ''an overwhelming majority of states in the world say that inspectors should be given all the help to continue with their inspections''.
He dismissed the argument that Iraq was a threat to international peace and security. Answering the rhetorical question: ''Should inspectors continue with their work in the interests of a political settlement?'' Ivanov said, ''Russia says 'yes'. The conditions are there and the inspections should continue''.
China's Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuang, who urged Iraq to implement Security Council resolution 1441 - which late last year authorized inspectors to return to the country after a four-year hiatus - ''strictly, comprehensively and earnestly'', said he did not see the need for a war.
''Sitting on the Security Council, we simply have no reason not to make our utmost efforts towards (peace), and we are obliged to try our best and use all possible means to avert war,'' he said.
Fischer said the Council should ''thoroughly explore'' all possible options for resolving the crisis by peaceful means.
''Military action against Iraq would - in addition to the terrible humanitarian consequences - above all endanger the stability of a tense and troubled region. The consequences for the Near and Middle East would be catastrophic,'' he warned.
Of the 10 non-permanent members in the Council, Spain and Bulgaria supported the U.S. demand to end inspections, while Germany, Syria, Chile, Mexico and Pakistan wanted arms inspections to continue.
Guinea, Angola and Cameroon were ambivalent, although the three countries supported a recent unanimous resolution by 54 heads of state of the African Union opposing a war on Iraq.
Blix, head of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), said in his progress report that Iraq was still not ''pro-actively'' cooperating but officials there had changed their behavior towards inspections.
He reported that Iraq had agreed to permit aerial reconnaissance over its territory; allow Iraqi scientists to be questioned without the presence of officials; and that President Saddam Hussein had issued a decree barring all activities linked to WMD.
But the declaration that Iraq made in December, Blix said, missed the opportunity to provide inspectors with fresh material and evidence of the destruction of all weapons.
''Although I can understand that it may not be easy for Iraq in all cases to provide the evidence needed, it is not the task of inspectors to find it. Iraq itself must squarely tackle this task and avoid belittling the questions.''
Blix said 250 inspectors from 60 countries have so far conducted 400 inspections at over 300 Iraqi sites since December last year.
The team has collected more than 250 chemical and over 100 biological samples at different sites. Three quarters have been screened using the UNMOVIC's laboratories in Baghdad.
''The results to date have been consistent with Iraq's declaration'' that it has no weapons of mass destruction, he added.
U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, complained that inspectors had not seen the level of cooperation that Council members had anticipated and hoped for.
''The threat of military force should remain,'' he said, agreeing though that it must be used as the last resort.
The United States, said Powell, would not allow Iraq to possess WMD to use against its neighbors or to provide to terrorist organizations. Links with such groups were now emerging, he added, and he could establish that they existed.
''The world cannot wait until one of those terrible weapons shows up in one of its cities,'' he warned.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the authority of the Security Council was at stake because of the crisis, which highlighted that it is the responsibility of the United Nations to maintain international peace and security.
Copyright © 2003 IPS-Inter Press Service