Latest News

U.N. secretary general says war should be a last resort

UNITED NATIONS—War must be a last resort, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said Tuesday, as the sharply divided Security Council appeared headed for a showdown vote next week on whether to approve military action against Iraq.

In London, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov warned anew that Russia was prepared to veto a war resolution.

"If the situation so demands, Russia will of course use its right of veto—as an extreme measure—to avoid the worst development of the situation," Ivanov said. He added that Russia "will not support any decision that would directly or indirectly open the way to war with Iraq. . . . Abstaining is not a position Russia can take. We have to have a clear position, and we are for a political solution."

Nevertheless, two senior Bush administration officials said Tuesday that the United States would be ready to attack Iraq as early as late next week, and was prepared to do so without a new U.N. resolution. Both spoke only on condition of anonymity. Another heavy Army division, the 1st Armored Division, stationed in Germany, received deployment orders Tuesday.

Hanging over the Security Council is a draft resolution submitted last week by the United States, Great Britain and Spain that effectively would clear the way to war by declaring that Iraq has squandered its final opportunity to disarm.

The council remains split between members that are ready for war and those that favor continuing weapons inspections. Russia, France and Germany lead the antiwar group, joined by Syria and China. Only Bulgaria has joined the three sponsors of the pro-war resolution. Six other countries remain on the fence, and under pressure from both sides.

Annan cautioned that war is "a human catastrophe" that should be considered only when all possibilities for "peaceful settlement have been exhausted." He said Iraq's decision to begin destroying its prohibited Al Samoud 2 missiles was a "positive development."

U.S. officials have said they would be open to suggestions on their resolution but wouldn't negotiate the substance of it. If the resolution fails, President Bush has vowed to disarm Iraq by force anyway, leading an international "coalition of the willing." However, a Security Council majority's blessing on war would give it greater legitimacy in the eyes of the world, possibly reduce hostility to the United States for insisting on it and spur international cooperation in rebuilding a postwar Iraq.

The next step is a Security Council briefing Friday by chief U.N. arms inspectors Hans Blix, head of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Blix issued a report last week saying that Iraq has been slow to comply with demands that it destroy its weapons of mass destruction, but nonetheless is showing some cooperation.

After Friday's briefing, the United States and its allies are expected to push for a quick vote on the measure, but probably not until next week.

To pass, the resolution must get nine "yes" votes and avoid a veto from any of the five permanent members, which include France, Russia and China. The United States and Britain are the other two veto-wielding powers.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday in an interview with a French TV station that he was confident that a majority of the council would support the U.S. position.


(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Fawn Vrazo in London contributed to this report.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.