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Security Council members insist they still has a role to play in Iraq

UNITED NATIONS—In a moment rich with irony, members of the United Nations Security Council said Wednesday that Iraq does not present an imminent threat and declared that it could be disarmed by peaceful methods.

The assertions, made by foreign ministers and ambassadors, were overshadowed by recognition of the council's impotence in light of the United States' decision this week to quit seeking U.N. approval to wage war.

In a place where urgent passions raged over the previous six months, creating a sense that the United Nations might indeed be the forum its founders had envisioned—where matters of war, peace and global order would be decided—Wednesday's debate had the air of old soldiers chewing over battles long lost.

The diplomats' frustration that events had passed from their hands was evident.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov complained that if there were "indisputable facts" that Iraq directly threatens U.S. security, "then Russia without any hesitation would be prepared to use all the means available to eliminate such a threat. However, the Security Council today is not in possession of such facts."

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer insisted again that his country "emphatically rejects the impending war" and questioned whether Iraq's sluggish cooperation with U.N. arms inspectors could "seriously be regarded as grounds for war."

But, aware that war is seemingly inevitable, diplomats lamented their failure to avert it, then turned their attention to the Security Council's future, particularly its role in meeting humanitarian and reconstruction challenges after the war.

"We are meeting here today, a few hours before the guns are fired, to exchange our convictions again," said French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, "but also to outline together the paths that must allow us to recover the spirit of unity."

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte and British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said their governments have set aside millions of dollars for immediate food and medical relief and said they will soon present ideas on how to use money from the U.N.-run oil-for-food program to meet humanitarian needs.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan told the council that he, too, would soon present specific proposals for addressing the humanitarian emergency to "mitigate this imminent disaster."

Ironically, the focus of Wednesday's meeting was to receive plans for Iraq's final disarmament from Hans Blix, the chief U.N. biological and chemical weapons inspector, and from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which oversees nuclear disarmament.

The inspectors detailed 12 key disarmament issues that remain unresolved—including Scud missiles, biological and chemical warheads, unmanned aircraft and spray devices, and a variety of biological and chemical agents including mustard gas, VX, anthrax, botulinum toxin and smallpox.

Yet even as the documents listing remaining key disarmament work were presented, Blix acknowledged relief that his inspection team had been safely evacuated.

"I naturally feel sadness that three and a half months of work carried out in Iraq have not brought the assurances needed," Blix said. He regretted, too, "that no more time is available for our inspections, and that armed action now seems imminent."

Blix has said that, with active cooperation from Iraq, disarmament could be verified in a matter of months, but he noted dryly Wednesday that the inspectors' plan "would seem to have only limited practical relevance in the current situation."


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