U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan says he sees no reason for military action against Iraq at this time. In an interview with Israel's Army Radio, Mr. Annan said U.N. inspectors should be allowed to finish their work.
Kofi Annan said the U.N. inspectors are in Iraq to ferret out banned weapons or weapons programs Iraq may have. He told Israel's Army Radio it was agreed that the inspectors should report their findings to the U.N. Security Council January 27.
Therefore, he said there is no basis for further action now, since Iraq has cooperated with the inspectors. "Iraq is cooperating, and [the inspectors] are able to do their work in an unimpeded manner," said Mr. Annan. "Therefore I do not see an argument for a military action now."
Mr. Annan said the inspectors should be allowed to finish their job before further action is taken. He also said he is hopeful the crisis can be resolved peacefully.
U.S. President George W. Bush has threatened to attack Iraq if it does not tell the truth about its possession of and plans for weapons of mass destruction. Washington has expressed dissatisfaction with Iraqi disclosures.
Iraq continues to deny it has banned weapons, while the United States says it has evidence to the contrary.
Mr. Annan also said if there is a U.S.-led war against Iraq, Baghdad would have no justification to attack Israel. "I hope Iraq will not attack Israel," he said. "That was a big mistake the last time around and I can understand why Israel would want to protect itself and will be preparing its population ... but really, I do not see any justification for them to attack a country that is not party to the conflict."
During the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq fired dozens of Scud missiles at Israel. There is concern that in case of another war Iraq could again target Israel, this time using chemical or biological warheads.
The U.N. secretary general also said he hopes that in the coming year, additional efforts will be made to resolve the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"I hope as we move into 2003, there will be re-invigorated efforts to work with the parties to find a solution," said Mr. Annan. "And I hope at that point the parties will be prepared to work energetically with the international community to resolve this long-standing issue."
Mr. Annan said he knows Israel's position that it will not deal with Yasser Arafat because it blames him for not having done enough to stop terror attacks against Israelis.
"As far as Chairman Arafat is concerned, he is the only elected leader of the Palestinians," said the U.N. leader. "Until they elect new leaders, for us in the United Nations he is the leader."
Mr. Annan said tremendous pressure has been put on Mr. Arafat to stop the violence. The U.N. secretary-general repeated his own condemnation of suicide bombings and terror tactics.
He also repeated calls for Israel to be careful in its response to violence so as not to harm innocent civilians and to ensure that, as an occupying power, Israel protects the rights of the civilian population in accordance with the law.