While the formal council chamber was bathed in bright lights for the televised debate, informal discussions went on behind the scenes to reach an accord on the U.N. humanitarian role in Iraq.
Members were trying to adjust the so-called oil-for-food program to grant Secretary-General Kofi Annan increased temporary powers to expedite aid delivery, while also excluding language that might legitimize the military actions of Britain, the United States and their allies. Ambassadors were optimistic a measure would come out of the talks within a day or so.
The Arab League and the Non-Aligned Movement requested the formal debate.
Of the nearly four-dozen speakers in this first day of debate, only a handful endorsed or failed to denounce the military action against Iraq of the "coalition of the willing." These nine countries were Albania, Australia, Japan, Korea, Kuwait, Latvia, Macedonia, Norway and Uzbekistan. With 72 speakers having signed up, debate was to resume at 9:30 a.m. EST Thursday.
Annan led off the speeches, diplomatically to be sure, appealing for the healing of divisions in the 15-member council "to recover its rightful role" as the U.N. body with primary responsibility for maintaining peace and security and to negotiate an interim resolution to facilitate humanitarian aid.
"All of us must regret that our intense efforts to achieve a peaceful solution, through this council, did not succeed," he said. "Many people ask why the Iraqi government did not take full advantage of the last chance they were given by the council, by cooperating actively, wholeheartedly -- in substance as well as procedure -- with the inspectors that the council sent to ensure that Iraq was disarmed of weapons of mass destruction.
"But, at the same time, many people around the world are seriously questioning whether it was legitimate for some member states to proceed to such a fateful action now -- an action that has far-reaching consequences well beyond the immediate military dimensions -- without first reaching a collective decision of this council," Annan said.
"The council, which has now had Iraq on its agenda for 12 long years, must rediscover its unity of purpose," he said. "We all want to see this war brought to an end as soon as possible. But, while it continues, it is essential that everything be done to protect the civilian population, as well as the wounded and the prisoners of war, on both sides, and to bring relief to the victims."
Ambassador Mohammed Aldouri of Iraq followed the secretary-general. Baghdad's envoy told the panel the U.S.-led invasion of his nation was a "blatant material breach of international law and the U.N. Charter." He said, "This colonial Anglo-Saxon aggression is a naked defiance of the will of the international community."
Aldouri said Iraq -- a founding member of the United Nations -- was being subjected to aggression that was killing women, children and the elderly. Sanctions, which have lasted for almost 13 years, were also having a terrible effect on the country, and Aldouri called on the council to make sure that the rules of international law were observed.
While the aggressors said that their goal was the disarmament of Iraq, everybody knew that they were not the ones tasked with that mandate, Aldouri said. The U.N. weapons inspections during the last several months had found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction or proscribed activities within Iraq.
The international community was also well aware that the Security Council had not authorized the use of force by the United States and the United Kingdom, the ambassador said. "The real reason for the invasion and aggression on Iraq, which is the occupation of Iraq and re-colonizing it and controlling its oil wealth."
Aldouri was still hopeful that the international community would be able to impose its will on those who had broken international law. A failure to do so would mean the end of the U.N. system.
Ambassador Rastam Mohd Isa of Malaysia, speaking as head of the NAM coordinating bureau, said the group strongly believed that U.N. member states should observe and abide by the world organization's charter and the principles of international law in dealing with problems among nations.
With military activity now escalating in Iraq, he said, NAM was extremely concerned about the humanitarian situation of the civilian population in that country. There were reports that the people in Basra could be facing a serious humanitarian disaster, including shortage of basic needs such as electricity and water, if relief supplies did not reach them in time. Isa said he hoped the sufferings of the civilian population would be relieved as soon as possible.
Isa called on the international community to also assist the United Nations in carrying out the important task of providing humanitarian relief, even though, he said, responsibility for that relief with those countries that had initiated the military action.
The permanent observer for the League of Arab States, Yahya Mahmassani, told the council that the resolution adopted at the end of the league's Ministerial Council meeting on Sunday said the attack against Iraq was a violation of the U.N. Charter and the principles of international law, as well as a threat to international peace and security.
The league had called for the unconditional withdrawal of U.S. and British forces from Iraq and held them responsible for all the repercussions. It had also called on the council to adopt a resolution calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of forces. In addition, the league had called for a reaffirmation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq.
At a time when there was hope for the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Mahmassani said he was stunned to see the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The current international system was facing a grave danger, he said, and he called on the council to shoulder its responsibility to maintain international peace and security.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he did not think the international body would call on the United States to stop prosecuting its war to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. It hardly could as one of the five permanent members of the 15-nation panel -- Britain, China, France Russia and the United States -- Washington holds a veto.
"We see no indication of such a call coming out of the United Nations. We'll see what the United Nations does, but right now we have set our course rather clearly," Powell said in an interview on Al-Jazeera, the Arabic satellite television network.
Al-Jazeera has shown pictures of Iraqi children allegedly killed in U.S. bombings, as well as Iraqi military officers interviewing captured U.S. prisoners of war.
"Now that the conflict has begun," Powell said, "we are going to see it through to its conclusion as quickly as possible, and a pause or a ceasefire would serve no purpose at this time. It would merely delay the inevitable and give Saddam Hussein some chance to believe that he could avoid the serious consequences that he has caused to befall his regime."
(UPI State Department Correspondent Eli J. Lake contributed to this report)
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