23 February 2003
114 countries urge Iraqi backdown
IN a show of support for Iraq coupled with appeals for Saddam Hussein to disarm, foreign ministers for more than half the world have urged Baghdad to comply with UN resolutions while adding their voice to the millions of people who oppose war.
A declaration prepared for a Non-Aligned Movement summit also said that if Iraq continued to cooperate with UN inspectors in eliminating weapons of mass destruction, the debilitating sanctions imposed on Baghdad after the 1991 Gulf War should finally be lifted.
Although the draft declaration endorsed today by foreign ministers addressed US concerns by stressing that Baghdad must comply with Security Council resolution 1441 - which demands that Iraq disarm - its overall tone left no doubt that the Non-Aligned Movement does not want to see a military attack.
Leaders of the movement's 114 mostly developing nations, representing 55 per cent of the world's population and nearly two-thirds of UN members, were expected to endorse the declaration at their summit starting on Monday.
US confrontations with Iraq and North Korea - nations allegedly possessing weapons of mass destruction - dominated preparations for the summit.
"We reiterate our commitment to the fundamental principles of the non-use of force and respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence and security of all member states," the document on Iraq said.
There were two days of wrangling over the document's precise wording. The latest version dropped the characterisation by some Arab countries of any conflict as "aggression".
"It is a balanced statement because it shows everyone is against unilateral action against Iraq or any other country," said Gholomali Khoshroo, Iran's deputy foreign minister. "At the same time, they have urged Iraq to cooperate with the United Nations."
"What we want is full compliance with Resolution 1441," said US envoy Charles Twining, an observer at the conference. "It's really that simple."
Iraq is a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement, which was set up in 1955 to pave a neutral path between the United States and the Soviet bloc and which regularly opposes military action against any Third World state.
The draft declaration paid a nod to massive anti-war protests around the world, and came a day before summit host Malaysia holds a peace rally organisers expect to draw as many as 200,000 people.
"We are fully cognisant of the concerns expressed by millions in our countries, as well as in other parts of the world, who reject war and believe, like we do, that war against Iraq would be a destabilising factor for the whole region," it said.
Not everyone at the summit faulted what the protesters perceive as US President George W Bush's hawkish stance on Iraq. Nobel Peace laureate Jose Ramos Horta said Bush's Iraq policy deserves more credit for boosting Baghdad's cooperation with UN demands to disarm.
"If President Bush had not threatened to go to war in a credible manner by building forces in the region, would Saddam Hussein have invited the weapons inspectors back?" said Ramos Horta, foreign minister for East Timor, which will formally join the Non-Aligned Movement on Monday.
"Did he invite them back because of the charming French attitude or because of the German pacifist attitude, or because he knows that George W Bush means business?"
North Korea - another non-aligned state - wanted the final declaration to condemn Washington for causing its crisis over nuclear development, but diplomats from other countries baulked at that request.
Meanwhile, North Korea resisted calls by fellow summit participants to return to a key nuclear treaty, prompting some nations to say they feared peace in Asia was in jeopardy.
"We are trying to find a middle way where we take note of North Korea's withdrawal and hope they will rejoin the Non-Proliferation Treaty," Malaysian foreign minister Syed Hamid Albar said. "They must accept there is a fear of a nuclear threat and it will jeopardise peace and security."
He said Malaysia is drafting wording that "we think reflects the Korean concern and also reflects the concerns of non-aligned countries".
The North Korea crisis began in October when US officials said that Pyongyang admitted having a covert nuclear program. Washington and its allies suspended fuel shipment to North Korea as punishment, and Pyongyang retaliated by expelling UN monitors and pulling out of the treaty.