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Annan Questions Legitimacy of Iraq War Absent UN Resolution - 2003-03-10

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is warning that any military action against Iraq, without the backing of the Security Council would call into question its legitimacy and be outside the U.N. charter.

Pleading for unity in the Security Council, Secretary-General Annan said it faces a grave decision in the face of a possible U.S.-led war in Iraq. "The members of the Security Council now face a grim choice. If they fail to agree on a common position, and action is taken without the authority of the Security Council, the legitimacy and support for any such action will be seriously impaired," Mr. Annan said.

The United States, Britain and Spain are hoping for a Security Council vote this week on their new resolution, setting a deadline for Iraq to fully comply with previous resolutions. In the face of strong opposition from France, China, and Russia - which as permanent members of the council could veto any resolution - the United States has said it is willing to proceed militarily, even without Security Council authorization.

Secretary-General Annan said that would not be in conformity with the U.N. charter, and would make the world a more dangerous place. The United States said it does not need U.N. authorization to launch a military campaign.

In spite of the tough diplomatic rhetoric now coming from all sides, Secretary-General Annan indicated there is still hope for a consensus. "If on the other hand, if they can come together, even at this late hour, and address this threat in a united matter, and ensure compliance with their previous resolutions, then the council's authority will be enhanced, and the world will be a safer place," he said.

Mr. Annan is in the Netherlands for talks on the reunification of Cyprus and Tuesday's inauguration of the world's first permanent International Criminal Court.