Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the United Nations, yesterday issued a forceful reminder to Washington that the UN was the sole legitimate body that could build a global coalition against terrorism.
But apparently recognising that the United States intended to act alone without a specific mandate in the coming days against Afghanistan, Mr Annan concentrated on the UN's long-term role in fighting terrorism in a speech to the 189-nation UN General Assembly. "This organisation is the natural forum in which to build... a universal coalition," Mr Annan said. "It alone can give global legitimacy to the long-term struggle against terrorism."
Britain and the US have ruled out seeking UN Security Council authorisation for military action against Afghanistan, whose Taliban rulers have refused to extradite Osama bin Laden. Mr bin Laden has been named as the prime suspect in the attacks.
A Foreign Office spokesman said Britain believed that a UN Security Council resolution adopted after the attacks on America provided sufficient cover for military action. That resolution expressed the 15-nation council's readiness "to take all necessary steps" and called on all states to work together to bring the perpetrators to justice. The US, meanwhile, says its military riposte would be covered by a self-defence provision in the UN charter.
The US and British reluctance about returning to the council for a UN mandate appears to stem from their most recent experience. Veto-wielding countries such as Russia and China complicated efforts to obtain swift UN authorisation for the 1999 NATO military campaign in Kosovo.
Mr Annan, seeing his organisation confined to the sidelines since the attacks, has reaffirmed that the UN must have a role in combating the "unspeakable horror" of terrorism. He did not address specific measures in his speech, but last week said UN member states must stop providing shelter and logistical support for terrorists, halt the money-laundering used to finance terrorist acts, and share information on terrorists and their organisations.
"We also need to give greater urgency to our humanitarian task of relieving the victims of conflict and starvation – especially, at this time, those displaced from their homes in Afghanistan," he said.
The UN postponed for security reasons its annual General Assembly session, usually attended by heads of state and government leaders, after the US attacks. Mr Annan yesterday addressed the session which was attended by lower-level officials.
The Ghanaian secretary general told delegates the bombings were "not only an attack on our innocent fellow citizens – well over 60 member states are affected, including, I am sad to say, my own country – but an attack on our shared values. Let us respond by reaffirming, with all our strength, our common humanity and the values we share."
The Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, who has previously said the UN Security Council should be involved in a global response against terrorism, also took to the podium to support Mr Annan.
The US representative, Cameron Hume, also supported a UN role in combating terrorism and backed Mr Annan's suggestion of a General Assembly plenary session on 1 October to press all nations to ratify and implement a dozen existing conventions and protocols to fight terrorism – and to consider new ones.Reuse content