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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Resolute About War

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Nearly four and a half months after the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1441 and 12 years after the end of the Gulf War, we find ourselves facing what President George W. Bush has called the moment of truth and decision. The Iraqi regime has failed to take the final opportunity afforded by 1441 to fully and immediately disarm. As Bush said Sunday, "The resolution passed unanimously and the logic is inescapable: The Iraqi regime will disarm itself, or the Iraqi regime will be disarmed by force. And the regime has not disarmed."

We have arrived at the brink of war after months of pursuing consensus within the international community for a common course of action to eliminate the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. We achieved that consensus in November when the 15 members of the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1441, calling for Iraq's full and immediate disarmament and promising serious consequences if the regime refused to comply. In response, the Iraqi regime offered piecemeal concessions -- a 12,000-page report consisting largely of material submitted to the UN years ago, the destruction of some Al Samoud missiles, and permission for U-2 overflights. These gestures were intended to distract attention from the 25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent not accounted for in any report and confirmed by earlier inspection teams to have been in the Iraqi arsenal.

To put an end to the 12 years of Iraq's defiance of UN resolutions, the United States, Britain and Spain tried in recent weeks to gain the broadest possible support for a resolution reinforcing 1441 and giving Iraq an ultimatum to disarm. When France announced it would veto any resolution with an ultimatum, we concluded that it was pointless to continue to seek support for a second resolution. Instead of a consensus among the United Nations, we find ourselves on the brink of conflict with the support of a coalition of some 30 countries that are prepared to take the necessary steps to disarm Iraq as required by UNSCR 1441.

In his address to the UN General Assembly last September, Bush urged all members to focus on the mission of the UN Security Council: "We created the United Nations Security Council so that, unlike the League of Nations, our deliberations would be more than talk, our resolutions would be more than wishes. After generations of deceitful dictators and broken treaties and squandered lives, we dedicated ourselves to standards of human dignity shared by all, and to a system of security defended by all."

In setting the course for disarming Iraq, we worked with our UN partners and in accordance with the UN Charter, which grants the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. Chapter Seven of the Charter grants the council broad power to decide how to respond to "threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, or acts of aggression." In such situations, the council is not limited to recommendations but may take action, including the use of armed force "to maintain or restore international peace and security." This was the basis for UN armed action in Korea in 1950 and the use of coalition forces in Iraq and Kuwait in 1991. The council was acting under Chapter Seven when it passed Resolution 1441, calling for Iraq to fully and immediately disarm or face "serious consequences."

Over the past 12 years the council has passed 17 separate resolutions to ensure that Iraq does not pose a threat to international peace and security. Despite these resolutions and the fact that, under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, Resolution 1441 is supposed to be binding on UN members, the Security Council is divided over the use of military force in Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Iraq was clearly a "test that the Security Council did not meet." British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that if the international community had stayed firm in its determination and unity around Resolution 1441, Hussein could have been disarmed without a shot being fired.

While Russia does not share our point of view regarding Iraq, our bilateral relationship can weather this disagreement because there is much that pulls us together: our common cause against terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; our desire to promote investments in Russia and expand energy trade. As Powell stressed on Tuesday, we have had other disagreements with the Russian Federation, and we have been able to find common ground and move on. When I arrived as ambassador in July 2001, we were arguing over the future of the ABM Treaty and missile defense. In May 2002, our presidents signed the Treaty of Moscow to reduce strategic nuclear weapons, and we're now discussing ways of cooperating on missile defense. Disagreements will arise, but as long as we stay focused on our common interests, we can get through them and keep the relationship growing.

The current disagreement should not be allowed, as Powell put it, to play into Hussein's efforts to divide the international community. We have to look ahead to the liberation of Iraq, when the UN will have a crucial role to play. If conflict occurs, we will seek the urgent adoption of new UN Security Council resolutions that would affirm Iraq's territorial integrity, ensure rapid delivery of humanitarian relief, and endorse an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq. We will also propose that the secretary general be given authority, on an interim basis, to ensure that the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people continue to be met through the oil-for- food program. We urge our friends and allies to put aside differences, and work together for peace, freedom and security for the Iraqi people.

Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.