Iraqi envoy scolds Security Council

Interim foreign minister berates world body for failure to help his country

December 17, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

UNITED NATIONS - Iraq's interim foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, took the United Nations Security Council to task yesterday for having failed to help rescue his country from Saddam Hussein, and he chided its members for bickering over his country's future.

"Settling scores with the U.S.-led coalition should not be at the cost of helping to bring stability to the Iraqi people," Zebari said in language unusually scolding for an occupant of the guest seat at the end of the curving Security Council table.

"Squabbling over political differences takes a back seat to the daily struggle for security, jobs, basic freedoms and all the rights the U.N. is chartered to uphold," said Zebari, a blunt-spoken Kurd who fought Hussein as a mountain guerrilla.

Taking a harsh view of the inability of members of the Security Council to endorse military action in Iraq, Zebari, one of the 25 Cabinet ministers named by the Iraqi Governing Council in September, said, "One year ago, the Security Council was divided between those who wanted to appease Saddam Hussein and those who wanted to hold him accountable.

"The United Nations as an organization failed to help rescue the Iraqi people from a murderous tyranny that lasted over 35 years, and today we are unearthing thousands of victims in horrifying testament to that failure. ... The U.N. must not fail the Iraqi people again."

The accusatory tone of Zebari's speech irritated some diplomats but did not adversely affect the ensuing closed-door Security Council discussion over the U.N. role in Iraq, according to a European participant.

But Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the first to emerge from the hall, appeared taken aback.

"Now is not the time to pin blame and point fingers," he told reporters. Saying that Zebari was "obviously entitled to his opinion," Annan said that the United Nations had done as much for Iraq as it could under the circumstances and was prepared to do more.

Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry of Britain, which was the principal ally of the United States in Iraq, said there had been pointed questioning by colleagues but he detected "strong support" from them for a timetable that Zebari laid out - moving to an Iraqi transitional authority by July, subsequently drawing up a constitution, and holding elections in 2005.

The session of the 15-member council had been called to discuss the new plan.

Annan led off the open session of the council with a speech drawing from his report last week that ruled out a swift return of the United Nations to Iraq because of the bombing of its Baghdad headquarters in August and continuing attacks on diplomats and relief workers.

He also said the United Nations needed more "clarity" over what it would be asked to do in Iraq before he could fully recommit the world organization and its international staff. Such statements have angered the Bush administration, which argues that recent resolutions on Iraq give the United Nations ample room to broaden its participation immediately.

About 2,000 Iraqi workers for the United Nations are in the country, and last week Annan assigned 40 workers to staff Iraq aid offices in Nicosia, Cyprus, and Amman, Jordan.

Zebari took issue with the assignments, saying Iraq could guarantee the United Nations' security and noting the importance of having the organization back in Baghdad.

"Your help and expertise cannot be effectively delivered from Cyprus or Amman," he said.

He also criticized countries such as France that have expressed doubts about the U.S.-appointed Governing Council. "As Iraqis," he said, "we strongly disagree with those of you that question the legitimacy of the present Iraqi authorities."

Zebari proclaimed the Governing Council "the most representative and democratic governing body in the region."

He said, "The members of the Security Council should be reaching out and encouraging this nascent democracy in a region well known for its authoritarian rule."

Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere of France, a critic of the war, said he had questioned Zebari about France's interest in seeing Iraq increase the "inclusiveness" of the government so it would be one that would be viewed as "totally legitimate."

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