U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan warned that Spain's announcement that it plans to withdraw its troops from Iraq if coalition forces are not placed under United Nations control by June 30 could lead other European nations to pull out of Iraq.
Mr. Annan says he recognizes that the Spanish incoming government's decision followed unique circumstances - last week's deadly bombs on the Madrid commuter trains and a suspected al Qaida tape linking the attack to Spain's support of the war in Iraq.
Still, the secretary-general said he hopes the move will not cause other European nations to follow suit.
"I think [other] the European governments were in similar situations in the sense that their populations were not for the war but the leaders were convinced it was the right way to go, went ahead and supported military action," says Mr. Annan. "If the situation in Spain is not handled well, we need to be careful that we do not have a ripple effect and other reactions, similar reactions in other European countries."
But Mr. Annan said he believes that the Security Council will move beyond its past differences on Iraq and will adopt a resolution authorizing governments to contribute troops to help secure the country.
"My own sense is that the [Security] Council would probably be prepared, at the right time, to issue a resolution that will establish a multi-national force and allow other governments to participate in an international effort to pacify Iraq as part of our international effort," he says. "Whether that will be satisfactory for the Spanish government, I do not know, I presume that sort of a mandate may suit their needs but, of course, it is a decision for the Spanish government to make, this is the way I would see it."
The U.N. Secretary General also called on the international community to unite in the effort to rebuild Iraq and to help the Iraqis establish their own democracy.
"I think it is extremely important that we all accept that the stabilization of Iraq is everyone's responsibility," says Mr. Annan. "We can not, as an international community, afford to see a chaotic Iraq in the middle of that region. It can have an impact on neighbors if it is not contained and it can have an impact on oil supplies and all of that."
Earlier, Mr. Annan had received a letter from Iraq's Shiite Cleric, Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, welcoming the United Nations back to Iraq. The Secretary General said the United Nations is prepared to work with an Iraqi interim government on constitutional issues, preparations for elections, human rights, and reconstruction. But he says security remains a major constraint.
Mr. Annan made his remarks after taking questions at the private Council on Foreign Relations in New York.