- The Washington Times - Friday, September 17, 2004

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan sought yesterday to soothe friction with the Bush administration over differences on the Iraq war in a telephone call to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

“It was not the secretary-general’s intention to stir things up in this way,” said U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard. “His talk with Secretary Powell this morning was an attempt to reassure the United States of that.”

Mr. Annan, who had called the U.S.-led war in Iraq illegal under the U.N. Charter, telephoned Mr. Powell following a report in yesterday’s editions of The Washington Times.

Mr. Powell told editors and reporters at The Times that the United States could “rest its case” for war on “a consistent body of international law and 12 years of [U.N.] resolutions.”

Mr. Powell also called Mr. Annan’s remarks “not a very useful statement to make at this point.”

The exchange of comments came ahead of Tuesday’s opening of the 59th annual meeting of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly. Mr. Annan’s speech is expected to stress the importance of international law.

Both President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi are also scheduled to address the U.N. session.

The State Department confirmed that Mr. Annan and Mr. Powell spoke yesterday, and attempted to push the issue of legality and the contention aside.

“The past is the past. Let’s look to the future,” State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.

“We’ve got a number of challenges and a number of opportunities in Iraq that the multinational force, the international community and the U.N. are working together to seize,” he said.

But Mr. Ereli also reiterated Washington’s belief that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq had been validated by the world body.

“We clearly believe that we and our coalition allies clearly believe there is a firm legal basis for the actions taken,” Mr. Ereli said.

Iraq is a major U.S. election issue and Washington has been trying to work with U.N. members to attract increased international cooperation in rebuilding the violence-wracked country.

Mr. Eckhard tried to tone down the dispute. He said that Mr. Annan believed that the legality issue was best left to a panel he formed last year to look at how to reconcile the idea of preventive war with the U.N. charter, among other issues.

“In his view, this war was not in conformity with the charter because it was not approved by the Security Council, but he already passed that ball to this high level panel,” said Mr. Eckhard.

The panel is expected to issue its report to the secretary-general on Dec. 1. Mr. Annan will then use those recommendations to formulate his own final report to the U.N. General Assembly.

France got into the fray yesterday, with Foreign Minister Michel Barnier backing Mr. Annan’s stance.

“Our country’s disagreement with the way the war was carried out was that it clearly did not at that time abide by international law and there was not a clear request from the United States to start that action,” Agence France-Presse quoted Mr. Barnier as saying in Paris.

Mr. Annan raised the issue in an interview last weekend with British Broadcasting Corp. radio, saying that the United States had failed to seek a needed second resolution before launching the war in March 2003.

“I’ve indicated that it was not in conformity with the U.N. charter from our point of view, and from the charter point of view it was illegal,” Mr. Annan said.

But Mr. Powell told The Times: “We always have the inherent right of self-defense. Even without the U.N. Charter, the president of the United States is empowered by the Constitution of the United States, in the name of the American people, to protect the American people.

“That is the first and foremost obligation of an American president. We would rest on that if we needed to.

“In this instance, even if we do rest on it, we don’t need to because there’s a consistent body of international law and 12 years’ worth of [U.N.] resolutions we can rest our case on.”

The legality of U.S. action in Iraq, added Mr. Ereli yesterday, is “not a debate that we see as something that we’re going to productively engage in.”

The State Department spokesman emphasized instead the “vital role that the U.N. has in helping Iraq achieve stability and prosperity” despite past disagreements with member states.

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