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Chirac, Annan Criticize US Unilateralism at UN - 2003-09-24

U.S. President Bush has locked horns at the United Nations with French President Jacques Chirac and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan over the U.S. decision to act unilaterally in Iraq. From U.N. headquarters in New York, Peter Heinlein sent this overview of opening day at a new General Assembly session.

President Bush gave a spirited defense of his decision to invade Iraq without a U.N. Security Council resolution. But his speech was sandwiched between two other world leaders, both of whom denounced Washington's unilateralism.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan began the day with a sharp denunciation of countries that reserve the right to act unilaterally, violating an understanding that any use of force requires what he called "the unique legitimacy of the United Nations." While not mentioning the United States by name, he criticized the logic underpinning Washington's decision to move against Saddam Hussein's government.

"According to this argument, states are not obliged to wait until there is an agreement in the Security Council," he said. "Instead, they reserve the right to act unilaterally, or in ad hoc coalitions. This logic presents a fundamental challenge to the principles on which, however, imperfectly, world peace and stability have rested for the past 58 years."

When it was his turn at the microphone, however, President Bush expressed no regret for his decision. Instead, he told the Assembly he still believes it was the right thing to do. "Because a coalition of nations acted to defend the peace, and the credibility of the United Nations, Iraq is free, and today we are joined by representatives of a liberated country," he said.

Mr. Bush told the world body it is time to put aside past disagreements and move forward. But moments later, French President Jacques Chirac stepped to the podium with a blistering attack on Washington. He said the U.S. decision to oust Saddam Hussein had put the United Nations through one of the most severe crises in its history. "No one can claim the right to use force unilaterally or preventively," he stressed.

Mr. Chirac and Mr. Bush met privately after their speeches in hopes of bridging their differences over what to do next in Iraq. Afterwards, however, the French leader told reporters that those differences still remain.

Mr. Chirac wants full sovereignty to be handed over to Iraqis within months. But Mr. Bush made it clear he would not be rushed. In his Assembly speech, he said self-government in Iraq should be neither hurried nor delayed by the wishes of other parties.

The United States is seeking support for a Security Council resolution creating a multinational force for Iraq and enlisting wider support for reconstruction. But France and other Council members are asking for a greater U.N. role in the Iraq reconstruction effort.