The United Nations Security Council opened a public debate Wednesday on the question of weapons inspections in Iraq. Many governments are urging a peaceful resolution of the crisis. The special meeting was called to give the general U.N. membership a chance to express their views, as the United States pursues U.N. approval of the use of force.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called Iraq's failure to meet U.N. disarmament demands a grave international challenge. In a statement read to the Security Council by his deputy, Mr. Annan said he would support a new resolution that toughens the requirements for the inspections and urged Iraq to use "this last chance."
As the Bush administration continues to press the Security Council to give it the right to use force against Iraq should Iraq fail to comply, many governments have signaled their reservations about the military option, at least for now.
South African ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, who requested the special council meeting, believes Iraq should be given the benefit of the doubt. "The government of Iraq says inspectors could come," he said. "We should go ahead and allow the inspectors to go. And we don't know why we should start discussing attacking Iraq before we even allow the inspectors to go in and do their work."
Most of the speeches in the Security Council seemed to favor this position. But many governments also challenged Iraq to meet its obligations and put an end to a 12-year effort built on efforts to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.
Australian ambassador John Dauth was adamant. He said his government is convinced that Iraq is a danger to international peace. While stopping short of endorsing military action, the Australian envoy said Iraq responds only to pressure and called on the Security Council to devise tough, new guidelines for the inspections. "We must not, as we say in Australia, drop the ball now," said Ambassador Dauth. "We urge you to pass a new and robust Security Council resolution which provides the strongest possible basis for unconditional and unfettered inspections of Iraq."
Iraq insists it has accepted the inspections unconditionally, according to a 1998 understanding it reached with the United Nations. That agreement does not allow for immediate access to eight presidential sites in Iraq. Inspectors could visit them, but only after elaborate procedures are put in place.
But those are the old rules. After a nearly four-year absence from Iraq, the United States argues the inspectors must be able to go wherever they want, whenever they want, with no restrictions.