Annan sees no reason for attack on Iraq, optimistic war can be avoided

Published: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 1:37 a.m.

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday he sees no reason for an attack on Iraq and is optimistic that war can be avoided if the international community maintains pressure on Saddam Hussein and inspectors do their job aggressively.

Nonetheless, he said the United Nations is making plans to deal with an exodus of refugees and potential humanitarian crisis in the event of military action. U.N. experts are also doing some "preliminary thinking" about a possible post-conflict political organization and administration in Iraq, he said.

But Annan's message was upbeat. He said U.N. weapons inspectors were "just getting up to full speed" and there were no grounds yet for any military action. He also implicitly opposed any unilateral attack by the United States and Britain without Security Council authorization.

The resolution adopted by the council on Nov. 8 which gave Iraq a last chance to get rid of all weapons of mass destruction requires council members to discuss any new Iraqi violations.

If inspectors report that Iraq is not cooperating or that they have found weapons, Annan said he expects the council "to face up to its responsibility" and adopt a second resolution spelling out the "serious consequences" it threatened on Nov. 8 in case of Baghdad's failure to comply.

I do not think we are there yet," he said. "So I really do not want to talk about war. Nor is the council talking about war."

"I am both optimistic and hopeful that if we handle the situation right, and the pressure on the Iraqi leadership is maintained and the inspectors continue to work as aggressively as they are doing, we may be able to disarm Iraq peacefully, without need to resort to war," Annan said.

Arab leaders and some European leaders are delivering a message to Iraqi authorities that they must honor their obligations to the Security Council -- and that means first and foremost filling in the "major gaps" in Iraq's 12,000-page declaration of its biological, chemical, nuclear and long-range missile programs, the secretary-general said.

Chief U.N. inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei will also be pressing for answers to the many outstanding questions about Iraq's weapons programs and for more "pro-active cooperation" when they visit Baghdad on Sunday and Monday, Annan said.

Inspectors resumed work on Nov. 27 after a four-year absence. Baghdad denies having any weapons programs, but the United States dismisses those claims and has begun a large military build-up in the Persian Gulf.

In remarks aired late Monday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said Baghdad is ready to answer any questions by U.N. inspectors, but insisted the arms report was comprehensive.

"The declaration answers everything, but ... if they have any questions they would like to present to Iraq or issues that they want clarified from the Iraqi side, we welcome them in the meetings that will be held in Iraq," Sabri said.

Annan said "there is no doubt" that President Bush's speech to the General Assembly in September and American pressure were responsible for getting inspectors back into Iraq.

But when asked whether the presence of U.S. troops was helpful in reaching a peaceful, diplomatic solution, he said: "I would want to make a distinction between pressure and the threat of use of force, and the actual use of force. When do you cross that threshold?"

Blix and ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, stressed that their Jan. 27 report to the Security Council would be an update -- not a final report on the inspections.

"We should wait for the update that they will give to the council on the 27th, and hear what further instructions the council gives them," Annan said.

Blix told Associated Press Television News on Monday that the inspectors need months to finish searching Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, but they may not get the time if the council decides to stop inspections -- or the United States takes military action.

If the council does not take any action on Jan. 27, Blix said inspectors will go ahead with plans to identify by late March the key disarmament tasks that Iraq must fulfill before sanctions imposed after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait can be suspended. These are likely to include detailed information about its anthrax and deadly VX nerve agent production, he said.

Mark Gwozdecky, a spokesman for the U.N. nuclear agency, said Sunday that U.N. teams would need about a year to carry out "credible" inspections of Iraq's nuclear program.

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