France and Russia bluntly condemned the move towards war against Iraq yesterday, accusing London and Washington of going far beyond UN resolutions in seeking to overthrow Saddam Hussein and of risking an upsurge in terrorism because of their actions.
The criticism came at a sombre meeting of the Security Council, attended by foreign ministers of those countries most opposed to the use of force against Iraq. Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, called it a "sad day for the United Nations and the international community".
Igor Ivanov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said Britain and America were violating the UN charter with their determination to invade Iraq. He reflected the feelings of many at the UN that past resolutions on Iraq were specifically focused on disarming Iraq, not on removing its President, and that the goalposts had been moved, by Washington in particular.
"Not one of these decisions authorises the right to use force against Iraq outside the UN charter," Mr Ivanov said. "Not one ... authorises the violent overthrow of the leadership of a sovereign state."
Earlier, Mr Ivanov posed for cameras beside his French and German counterparts, Dominique de Villepin and Joschka Fischer, to symbolise their common front in opposing war.
M. de Villepin openly questioned the argument repeatedly put forward over recent days by George Bush that punishing Iraq militarily would help to combat terrorism.
"To those who think that the scourge of terrorism will be eradicated through what is done in Iraq, we say that they run the risk of failing in their objective," he said. "An outbreak of force in such an unstable area can only exacerbate the tensions and fractures on which terrorists feed."
However, delegates at the debate were fully aware that they were powerless to stop the momentum towards war. The general feeling was that an outbreak of hostilities was unstoppable and that nothing anyone said in the Council chamber would change that.
Mr Fischer said: "Germany emphatically rejects impending war. In the current circumstances, the policy of military intervention has no credibility." Echoing the complaints of Mr Ivanov, he said: "There is no basis in the UN charter for a regime change with military means."
Mr Annan highlighted the plight of the Iraqi people, who face both war and the suspension of the UN's oil-for-food programme, which has been supporting about 60 per cent of the population. "In the short term, the conflict that is now clearly about to start can only make things worse – perhaps much worse," he said.
He also served notice to the US and Britain, without naming them, that they would have to shoulder the initial burden of sustaining the Iraqi population. "Under international law, the responsibility for protecting civilians in conflict falls on the belligerents. Under military occupation, responsibility for the welfare of the population falls on the occupying power."
The UN will assist efforts to channel humanitarian supplies into the country by using Iraqi funds from the oil-for-food programme. But Mr Annan said the UN had received only $34m (£22m) of the $123.5m it had requested of donors to support that effort.
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