March 17, 2003
The United States, Britain and Spain abandoned efforts today to win U.N. backing for military action against Iraq as President Bush gave Saddam Hussein an ultimatum to get out of his country or face a U.S.-led war and Secretary-General Kofi Annan ordered U.N. employees today to leave Iraq. The dramatic announcements, on same day as the Security Council met privately to address the Iraq crisis, coincided with countries closing their embassies there and some foreign journalists pulling out.
"We will withdraw the UNMOVIC and atomic agency inspectors. We will withdraw the U.N. humanitarian workers," Annan said. Journalists outside the Canal Hotel, the Baghdad headquarters of the inspectors, saw Iraqi U.N. employees leaving with boxes of personal belongings. There are 156 U.N. inspectors and support staff in Iraq from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is in charge of nuclear inspections, and the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, known as UNMOVIC, which is responsible for inspecting chemical, biological and long-range missiles. The decision by the United States, Britain and Spain to withdraw their resolution seeking authorization for military force represented a crushing diplomatic failure for America and the United Nations on the eve of what looks like war. It left the world body bitterly divided and Washington marching toward a military confrontation without international support, which would have been invaluable.
Even in the face of imminent military action, the Security Council scheduled a meeting Wednesday at the request of France, Russia and Germany, who oppose a rush to war and want to make a last-ditch effort to achieve Iraq's peaceful disarmament. The three countries want foreign ministers to set a timetable to carry out a dozen key disarmament tasks set by chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix. It wasn't clear how many of the 15 council foreign ministers would come to New York. Germany's U.N. Ambassador Gunner Plugger said it was important to make a 100 percent effort even if there's only a "1 percent chance of keeping the peace." Ending weeks of silence on the issue, Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned military action against Iraq, saying earlier today that war would be a mistake that could imperil world security. But British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock singled out France for threatening to veto the resolution, which would have given Iraq an ultimatum to disarm by today or face military action. "Given the situation, the co-sponsors have agreed that we will not pursue a vote." Flanked by U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, Greenstock added that the trio: "reserve their right to take their own steps to secure the disarmament of Iraq." Weeks of intense diplomacy and pressure from the Bush administration failed to convince a majority of the council's 15 members that the time for war had come. The resolution would have authorized war anytime after today unless Iraq proved before then that it had disarmed. Still, Negroponte said he thought the vote "would have been close." "We regret that in the face of an explicit threat to veto, the vote-counting became a secondary consideration," Negroponte said.
Moments later, French ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said that in one-on-one consultations in the past hours "the majority of the council confirmed they do not want a use of force." Shortly after the ambassadors spoke, the White House announced that Bush would address the nation tonight. "He will say that to avoid military conflict Saddam Hussein must leave the country," spokesman Ari Fleischer said. He declined to say whether Saddam would be given a deadline. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that those who must leave Iraq include Saddam and "immediate members of his family."
Saddam said today that Iraq once had weapons of mass destruction for defense against Iran and Israel but no longer holds them, the Iraqi News Agency said. The agency said Saddam made the remarks while meeting with a Tunisian envoy. On Sunday, Bush and his allies from Britain and Spain, meeting in the Azores, announced that they would give the United Nations one day to resolve the diplomatic dispute. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Sunday that British diplomats would work through the night to try to persuade France to reverse course. But the efforts didn't yield results.
Blair faces major opposition at home to participating in a war without U.N. backing. Today, a senior British Cabinet minister resigned after disagreeing with the government's decision to back military action. Robin Cook, a former foreign secretary, resigned his post as the government's leader in the House of Commons after a private meeting with Blair shortly before a meeting of the full Cabinet, Blair's office said. Earlier today in Moscow, a top diplomat said the council would not approve the U.S.-backed resolution. "This draft has no chances for passage," Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov told Interfax news agency. "No additional resolutions are necessary."
For weeks, the Russian Foreign Ministry has battered home the message that Russia would join France in opposing any U.N. resolution that automatically authorized force. But until today, Putin deliberately seemed to be seeking to avoid opposing Washington. "We are for solving the problem exclusively by peaceful means," Putin was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. He said Russia's position was clear, comprehensible and unwavering. "Any other development would be a mistake-- fraught with the toughest consequences, leading to victims and destabilization of the international situation as a whole," Putin told Chechen spiritual leaders, according to Interfax.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said earlier today that France could not accept a second U.N. resolution that includes an ultimatum or resorts to automatic use of force to disarm Iraq. Speaking to Europe-1 radio, de Villepin reiterated France's threat to use its veto in the Security Council to block the resolution. France was undeterred from the start and scheduled today's round of consultations to discuss a joint declaration by Paris, Moscow and Berlin calling for foreign ministers from the 15 council nations to meet Tuesday to discuss a "realistic" timetable for Saddam Hussein to disarm.
The declaration, released Saturday, said there was no justification for a war on Iraq and that U.N. weapons inspections were working. The United States, Britain and Spain introduced their resolution last month in hopes of winning U.N. support to disarm Iraq by force. In an effort to change members' positions, Britain offered some amendments, but council members weren't swayed.
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