The majority of the UN Security Council on Friday pressed for more time and strengthened inspections, aimed at Iraq's peaceful disarmament.
A critical high-level debate that followed briefings to the council by the chief UN inspectors heard voices from several council members that called for the continuation, enhancement and acceleration of inspections in Iraq.
Many pointed to examples of tangible progress listed by Hans Blix, head of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, including the ongoing destruction of Al-Samoud 2 missiles and interviews with Iraqi scientists. Peaceful means to achieving Iraq's disarmament were, as many stated, far from exhausted.
Speaking at the outset of the meeting, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said given the current progress reported by the inspectors there was no need for a second resolution declaring that Iraq had failed to take the final opportunity offered it in resolution 1441 to disarm.
He noted that the inspections could not go on forever but that the alternatives were clear, disarmament of Iraq by war or disarmament by exhausting all peaceful means. "The progress of the last few days have shown we have efficient alternatives to war in Iraq," Fischer said.
Igor Ivanov, minister for foreign affairs of the Russian Federation, said thanks to pressure on Baghdad, including through military build-up, progress had been achieved in implementing resolution 1441, and a process of real disarmament was underway. "Disarmament possibilities through political means existed, and no new resolution was needed," he noted.
He said. "We now need active support of the inspectors as they carry out their tasks."
Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said France, as a permanent member of the 15-member council, would not allow passage of a resolution that automatically authorized use of force.
While he agreed to timetables and to an accelerated calendar, he could not accept an ultimatum as long as the inspectors were reporting cooperation. "That would mean war," he stressed.
He proposed a three-point plan for continued inspections: that inspectors set a priority list of disarmament tasks, that they give a progress report every three weeks and that full implementation be assessed after 120 days as prescribed by Council resolution 1284, or even sooner if inspectors deem it feasible.
China's Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said as long as "we stick to the road of political settlement", the goal of destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction could still be achieved. He called on the council to let the inspectors continue their work and Iraq must strengthen its cooperation on substance.
"We believe that as long as we stick to the road of political settlement, the goal of destroying Iraq's WMD (Weapons of mass destruction) could still be obtained," he said. "Under the current circumstances there is no reason to shut the door to peace. Therefore we are not in favor of a new resolution, particularly one authorizing the use of force."
Syria's Foreign Minister, Farouk Al-Shara, also noted the elements in the report that referred to recent Iraqi cooperation. "If given that Security Council resolution 1441 does not set a time frame for the inspectors' work, what then could be the background of the arguments that the time is up and that Iraq had only days left to comply or else?" he said.
Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez of Mexico regretted Iraq's "lack of active, immediate and effective cooperation," called on it to "radically change its attitude" and stressed the need to search for the widest consensus among Council members. "Mexico is convinced that we have to explore all paths and take advantage of all opportunities to solve this issue through a peaceful way," he said.
Soledad Alvear Valenzuela, foreign minister of Chile, called on Iraq to cooperate more fully, saying that even at this late stage its attitude was insufficient. "But today's reports indicated that a peaceful resolution was still possible through strengthening inspections with clear deadlines and demands," she added.
Angolan Deputy Foreign Minister Georges Chikoti noted that Iraqi cooperation remained relatively insufficient and that progress normally occurred when associated with specific benchmarks and dates. "Such an endeavor appears to be, under the present circumstances, the most suitable way to maintain the Council's unity, to uphold a course that can lead to a peaceful solution of the crisis, and spare the Iraqi people, the region and the world from an armed conflict and its dangerous consequences," he said.
Cameroon's Permanent Representative to the UN, Martin Belinga-Eboutou, said the viability of inspections rested on unconditional Iraqi cooperation but the inspections could not go on indefinitely.
Appealing to the council to unite, he said a credible alternative to war must be sought. The Iraqi authorities must be compelled to comply unconditionally and fully.
Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the UN Munir Akram said Iraq must fully comply and the best assurance for success of peaceful disarmament was council unity, but he added that there was no imminent threat to international peace and security. "The cost of delay would be much less than the cost of war," he said.
Foreign Minister Lonseny Fall of Guinea, which holds the council presidency this month, said he would strive to ensure consensus.
"Guinea was in favor of inspections but understood that they could not go on indefinitely," the council president said. He believed that if the council managed the crisis in an effective manner, its credibility would be enhanced.