UNITED NATIONS – Diplomats said they were encouraged by President Bush's offer to seek U.N. endorsement for action against Iraq, with some echoing his call to prove that U.N. resolutions still have teeth.
``I don't think the United Nations will ever become irrelevant,'' Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham said of Iraq's defiance of U.N. orders to let in weapons inspectors. ``But this is in some ways a challenge to the United Nations.''
Responding to European criticism that the United States must not go it alone, Bush on Thursday challenged the Security Council to make Iraq accept weapons inspectors and destroy its weapons of mass destruction — obligations Baghdad undertook after losing the Gulf War in 1991.
The inspectors left in December 1998 ahead of U.S. and British airstrikes to punish Iraq for not cooperating with inspections, and Saddam Hussein has not readmitted them.
``Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding or will it be irrelevant?'' Bush asked the 189 other nations in the world body.
``My nation will work with the U.N. Security Council on a new resolution to meet our common challenge,'' Bush said. But if Iraq still blocks the inspectors, ``the purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council resolutions will be enforced,'' he said.
Arab nations reserved comment, apparently awaiting their turn to address the General Assembly. Several Arab nations, including Egypt and Kuwait, were scheduled to speak Friday, the second day of the annual forum.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw welcomed the call, saying Britain will ``work closely with the United States and its international partners to develop those resolutions of which President Bush spoke.''
Belgium's Foreign Minister Louis Michel said Bush had answered his European critics — including an unusually vocal Germany — and made them squirm.
``He gave another chance to Iraq. So we have to ask Iraq, to press Iraq, to deliver now. If Iraq doesn't deliver, it will, of course, be very uncomfortable for some European countries not to support the United States,'' Michel said.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Bush left important questions unanswered in his appeal for a U.N. resolution backing any action.
``My arguments against military intervention remain, and it is still clear that under my leadership, Germany will not participate in military action,'' Schroeder told the German parliament Friday.
Schroeder has warned repeatedly that attacking Iraq could wreck the international coalition against terrorism, provoke turmoil across the Middle East and damage the world economy.
Ahead for the U.N. Security Council now lies weeks of wrangling to fashion what Britain's Straw called ``tough, appropriate resolutions.''
Bush ``challenged us to (live) up to our responsibilities,'' said Norway's foreign minister, Jan Petersen. But, he said, ``we are facing a lot of very, very difficult challenges and choices'' in the coming debate over Iraq's defiance of U.N. resolutions on weapons inspectors.
France's president, Jacques Chirac, has suggested that the Security Council give Iraq an ultimatum of three weeks to act or face consequences.
``If the return of inspectors is not possible we should look at other options and everyone should carry out his responsibilities,'' French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the focus shouldn't be on the United States or any other country.
``The focus should be on Iraq,'' he said. ``The responsibility is for the Iraqis to comply with their international obligations.''
Canada's Graham said he planned to meet Iraq's Foreign Minister Naji Sabri on Monday and deliver a few words of advice.
``Open the doors immediately. Now is the time. You have to demonstrate to the world community you are not a danger to the world,'' he said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was one of the few representatives to endorse Bush's approach without reservations.
``He left the door open for another attempt for the Security Council, though I must admit the chances for it are very slim,'' Peres said.