President Bush is challenging the United Nations to either make Iraq live up to terms of Gulf War Security Council resolutions or face irrelevance. He spoke to the U.N. General Assembly after an appeal from Secretary-General Kofi Annan for action on Iraq within the U.N. framework.
Mr. Bush devoted most of his speech to a litany of Iraqi violations of post-Gulf War U.N. resolutions. He termed it a "decade of defiance" of world demands that it renounce weapons of mass destruction, support of terrorism, repression of its own people, and attacks on its neighbors.
The president said the world now faces a test and the United Nations "a difficult and defining moment." He said the world body should demand Iraqi compliance now, or face its own political irrelevancy.
"Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?" the president asked. "The United States helped found the United Nations. We want the United Nations to effective, and respectful and successful. We want the resolutions of the world's most important multilateral body to be enforced. And right now, those resolutions are being unilaterally subverted by the Iraqi regime. "
Mr. Bush made no specific threat to use force against Iraq, but said action will be "unavoidable" unless the United Nations takes a strong stand forcing Saddam Hussein to disarm. He said the world cannot stand by and do nothing as dangers gather, and that the United States is ready to make a stand for its own security and for the rights and hopes of mankind.
"If Iraq's regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively," he said. "We will work with the Security Council for the necessary resolutions. But the purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council resolutions will be enforced. The just demands of peace and security will be met or action will be unavoidable. And a regime that has lost its legitimacy will also lose it power."
The General Assembly was opened a few moments earlier by U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan. He urged Iraq to comply with its obligations and said if its defiance continues, the Security Council must "face its responsibilities."
At the same time he made a strong appeal, implicitly directed at the Bush administration policy on Iraq, for countries to act within the "legitimacy" of the U.N. framework.
"Any state, if attacked, retains the inherent right of self-defense under Article 51 of the [U.N.] Charter," Mr. Bush noted. "But beyond that, when states decide to use force to deal with broader threats to international peace and security, there is no substitute for the unique legitimacy provide by the United Nations."
A senior Bush administration official who spoke to reporters after both speeches, said it is Saddam Hussein who is unilaterally challenging a great multilateral institution, the United Nations. She said President Bush must retain his options to protect U.S. national interests.
The same official said the administration would like the U.S. Congress to endorse military action against Iraq if it came to that. She said it would be "a pity" if the Congress could not speak with one voice, especially after Mr. Bush has taken his case to the United Nations.