Secretary General Kofi Annan says the United Nations is struggling to balance contradictory pressures as it tries to restore stability to war-torn countries. Mr. Annan's comments came during a Security Council session on justice and the rule of law.

Mr. Annan said that while it is true that there cannot be real peace without justice, the relentless pursuit of justice might sometimes be an obstacle to peace. He said that, as the United Nations has learned from its involvement in resolving conflicts, insisting on uncompromising standards of justice can endanger chances for national reconciliation.

Mr. Annan said the upcoming U.N. Assistance Mission in Liberia, known as UNAMIL, will provide an idea of whether past lessons about justice and reconciliation have been learned.

"Liberia will be a test case," he said. "The council has responded to my recommendations by incorporating important rule of law components in authorizing the deployment of UNAMIL."

Several nations addressing the session expressed support for the new International Criminal Court as an instrument for promoting the rule of law. In his address, Deputy U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham made no mention of the international court, about which Washington has reservations. Instead, he focused on U.S. support for individual war crimes tribunals.

"As the Nuremberg legacy teaches us, no one should be above the law," he said. "Indeed, the United States has been at the forefront of international efforts to ensure that those responsible for wartime atrocities are prosecuted, from the establishment of the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals, to leading the effort to set up the international tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, to the most recent case of the Sierra Leone special court."

Washington's reservations about the International Criminal Court are based on concerns that the tribunal might be used as a forum for filing war crimes cases against U.S. citizens, from the president to soldiers on the ground.

The session was held on a day when a Belgian court threw out a case against former President George Bush for alleged war crimes during the 1991 campaign in Iraq. Earlier in the week, another Belgian court dismissed a case against retired General Tommy Franks, who had been commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.