U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is calling Iraq's decision to begin destroying one of its missile systems a positive development but says it will be up to the 15-member Security Council to decide whether this amounts to a step toward avoiding a threatened U.S.-led war.
Secretary General Annan says he considers Baghdad's decision to begin destroying its al-Samoud 2 missiles a fact that Security Council members will need to carefully consider before deciding whether to approve a U.S. and British resolution that would, in effect, give U.N. backing to a war to disarm Iraq.
He told reporters that the credibility of the U.N. council is at stake.
"If the council were to manage to come together and resolve this crisis effectively and successfully, the credibility and influence of the council will be enhanced. On the other hand, if the action were to be taken outside council authority, the support for that action, popular and otherwise, would also be diminished," he said.
A vote in the Security Council is not expected before next week. Right now, the United States, Britain and Spain, which say Iraq has failed its last chance to disarm, do not have the nine votes needed to pass the new resolution, and France, which wants weapons inspections to continue, has not dropped its threat to veto it.
But Friday could turn out to be a decisive day. The top United Nations weapons inspectors for Iraq will give the Security Council another update on Baghdad's compliance with disarmament. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte suggests the United States is then likely to call for a Security Council vote on a resolution that would clear the way for U.S.-led military action against Iraq.
"We think that it's time for the council to face that decision, that is to say, to decide that Iraq is not in compliance and has not taken advantage of this final opportunity," said Mr. Negroponte.
U.N. weapons inspectors have already characterized Baghdad's cooperation on disarmament as limited at best. But chief inspector Hans Blix calls Iraq's decision to begin destroying its al-Samoud 2 rockets very significant. Weapons inspectors say three more of those missiles were destroyed Tuesday, bringing the total to 16 since Saturday.