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President Bush Orders Quick Action from United Nations

By Ken Fireman
NEWSDAY -- United nations

Saddam Hussein poses a “grave and gathering danger” to world peace, and the United Nations must act quickly to blunt the threat or risk receding into irrelevance, President Bush told the world body Thursday.

In a speech that amounted to an ultimatum to both the Iraqi leader and the United Nations, Bush demanded that Hussein immediately give up his quest for nuclear weapons, end all support for terrorism, and cease mistreating his ethnic minorities.

In addition, the president warned the United Nations that it must now back up its long-unfulfilled demands for Iraqi disarmament with firm enforcement mechanisms -- or get out of the way and let the United States call Hussein to account by itself, presumably through military means.

“The conduct of the Iraqi regime is a threat to the authority of the United Nations and a threat to peace,” Bush told the U.N. General Assembly. “All the world now faces a test, and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment. Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?”

The president indicated a willingness to work with other members of the U.N. Security Council on a new approach to Iraq but did not offer a specific proposal. A senior administration official said afterward that Bush refrained from doing so in order to give U.S. diplomats a clear field for negotiating with other Security Council members in the days ahead.

However, another administration official said any new Security Council action must contain three key elements to win U.S. support: a highly specific list of demands that Iraq must meet, a timetable for compliance consisting of “days and weeks but not months,” and a clear statement of the consequences should Hussein fail to comply.

The administration is willing to discuss reinserting U.N. weapons monitors in Iraq -- but only under rigorous rules that would prevent the deceptions and stalling that characterized the 1991-98 weapons inspections effort.

The official said Secretary of State Colin Powell would begin the process of crafting such an approach Friday in meetings with diplomats from France, Britain, Russia and China. Those countries, along with the United States, are the permanent members of the Security Council and can veto any resolution.

Thus far, only the British have expressed unqualified support for the U.S. position on Iraq, and many countries have voiced concern about the administration’s not-so-veiled threats to topple Hussein through military means. Shortly before Bush spoke, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan SM ’72 delivered a pointed warning to Washington not to act unilaterally, saying that “even the most powerful states” must work with others to achieve their aims. “There is no substitute for the unique legitimacy provided by the United Nations,” he said.

After Bush spoke, there were signs that his address may have shifted opinion in Washington’s direction. Denmark, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, expressed praise for Bush’s stated willingness to work through the United Nations, and the French said they might introduce a new resolution on Iraq.