The UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan today asked the world's leaders for urgent action to address ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and South Asia and urged the United States not to act alone against Iraq.
In his speech at the annual General Assembly debate, the secretary-general put Iraq second on a list of four current threats to world peace "where true leadership and effective action are badly needed." First on the list is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and after Iraq comes Afghanistan and the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir.
Before Annan spoke, he met briefly with President Bush, who was later to present his case against Iraq. US officials said he would demand Iraq let in weapons inspectors and urge world leaders to insist on Saddam Hussein's compliance.
Advocating the importance of international cooperation for "even the most powerful countries," Annan told the General Assembly that any state that is attacked retains the right to self-defense under the UN Charter.
He opposed any pre-emptive action without Security Council backing, echoing concerns expressed by many countries, including close US allies.
But the secretary-general also accused Iraq of continuing to defy mandatory council resolutions adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows the use of military force - and he indicated that time was running short for Iraq to admit weapons inspectors and dismantle any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
Sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait cannot be lifted until UN inspectors certify that its weapons of mass destruction have been destroyed. But inspectors left ahead of US and British airstrikes in December 1998, and Iraq has banned them from returning.
"If Iraq's defiance continues, the Security Council must face its responsibilities," Annan said.
Western diplomats said it was significant that Annan was not only telling the United States to go through the Security Council, but telling its 15 members - who are often divided on Iraq - that if Iraq refuses to allow inspectors back, they cannot stand by and do nothing.
Bush is among more than 50 presidents and prime ministers and over 125 foreign ministers scheduled to address the assembly during the high-level session, which ends Sept. 20. With the international body operating under the highest threat level, security was tight and streets around UN headquarters were blocked by concrete barriers, city buses and trucks filled with sand.
Many countries are hoping their concerns won't be ignored during the general debate. A daylong meeting on Sept. 16 will focus on promoting Africa's development, and countries also want to talk about eradicating poverty, opening world markets and bringing peace to a host of global hotspots.
In addition to the numerous one-on-one sessions between leaders at this year's session, foreign ministers from about 20 countries concerned with Afghanistan will meet behind closed doors on Sept. 13. Senior officials from the so-called Quartet which has been trying to promote Mideast peace - the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia - will meet on Sept. 17.
Annan said an international peace conference on the Mideast is needed "without delay." He also urged the international community to help the new Afghan government extend its authority throughout the country, saying "without this, all else will fail" - and he called on nations to address the underlying causes that brought nuclear-armed India and Pakistan close to confrontation.
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