UNITED NATIONS – The United States and Britain lined up against France, China and Germany in a preview of an expected clash in the U.N. Security Council over military action against Iraq.
The confrontation over Iraq erupted during and after a high-level council meeting called by France Monday to give new momentum to the global war on terrorism. It was attended by 13 foreign ministers.
The 15-member council unanimously demanded that all 191 U.N. member states take urgent action to prevent and halt all support for terrorism. But it split over the U.S. push for a quick decision on disarming Iraq, and to a lesser extent on how to deal with North Korea.
The divisions are certain to surface when U.N. weapons inspectors report to the council on the first 60 days of inspections in Iraq on Jan. 27 -- and if North Korea gets on the council's agenda as the United States wants.
On Iraq, the United States and Britain, who have embarked on major military build-ups in the Persian Gulf, warned that time was running out for Saddam Hussein. But France and Germany, backed by China, opposed military action and demanded that the inspectors be given the time they need. Russia has supported the same position.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, taking a tough line, challenged members not to be "shocked into impotence" and shrink from their responsibilities when the inspectors report next week and the council considers what comes next.
While expressing hope for a peaceful solution, Powell dismissed Iraq's 10-point agreement with inspectors Monday to make inspections more effective and possibly help answer questions about what happened to thousands of chemical and biological weapons. "It's just more of the same," he said.
"If Iraq is disarming, then there may be a solution to this crisis without conflict," Powell said. "But if Iraq is not disarming, the United Nations cannot simply turn its head away and ignore this lack of respect that Iraq has for the United Nations and the international community. And we must not be afraid to meet the challenges that are ahead," he said.
His only support came from British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw who warned that "the moment of choice for Saddam is close."
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said that nothing today justifies military action, and didn't rule out the possibility of a French veto if the United States sought a second Security Council resolution authorizing military action.
"We will not associate ourselves with military intervention that is not supported by the international community," he said. "Using force like that would only be a last resort assuming all other possibilities are exhausted."
"We will go to the end. As long as you can make progress with the inspections and get cooperation, there's no point in choosing the worst possible solution -- military intervention," de Villepin said.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, whose country joined the council on Jan. 1, reiterated his country's strong opposition to an attack against Saddam Hussein's regime. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has opposed an Iraq war and ruled out a German combat role, angering Washington.
"We are greatly concerned that a military strike against the regime in Baghdad would involve considerable and unpredictable risks for the global fight against terrorism," Fischer said. He also warned that there could be "disastrous consequences for long-term regional stability."
China's Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan also called for inspectors to be given more time, saying the Jan. 27 report "is not a full stop of the inspectors work but a new beginning."
Both Powell and de Villepin noted that the Security Council had unanimously adopted Resolution 1441 on Nov. 8, giving Iraq a final opportunity to get rid of its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and the long-range missiles to deliver them or face "serious consequences" -- including possible military action.
The council could also see a division over the handling of North Korea's withdrawal from the global treaty to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and its reactivation of a nuclear reactor.
Powell said the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency has "a responsibility" to refer the issue to the council. China's Tang said "We have to go mainly though direct dialogue between North Korea and the United States."