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19 Nov 2002 21:26
UN opposes US stand on Iraqi no-fly zone violation

(Adds State Department, paragraphs 7-8)

By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 19 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Britain, Russia and others contradicted U.S. contentions on Tuesday that any violation of the no-fly zones over Iraq breached a new U.N. Security Council resolution.

Shortly after the United Nations Security Council adopted a tough resolution on Iraqi disarmament on Nov. 8, the Bush administration said Iraq's attempt to shoot down U.S. and British aircraft over the flight exclusion zone was a violation of the measure.

None of the other 14 members of the U.N. Security Council, including Britain, believe the zones are included in the resolution, much less a possible cause for a violation.

For the moment, Security Council members are saying little in any meeting after Iraqi troops on Monday again fired on allied aircraft, bringing harsh criticism from Washington.

The issue, diplomats said, probably would not be raised until the United States brought the violation to the council, which no one expected Washington to do for the time being.

"But if the Iraqis shoot one down, it could be a new ball game all together," said one Western diplomat.

On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker repeated the U.S. position that firing at allied aircraft in the no-fly zone was "a material breach of the resolution."

But he said, "We're not looking for triggers. We are looking for Iraqi compliance and disarmament. And we'll continue watching that very closely in coming days."

Secretary-General Kofi Annan, traveling in Kosovo on Tuesday, told reporters: "Let me say that I don't think that the council will say this is in contravention of the resolution of the Security Council."

And in London, a Foreign Office source reaffirmed that Britain sought other justifications under international law for the zones, but the new resolution was not one of them.

"We're already on the record as saying threats against our aircraft would not be a material breach of that resolution," he said.

Iraq does not recognize the flight exclusion zones, set up by the United States and Western allies unilaterally after the 1991 Gulf War to prevent Baghdad from attacking rebellious Kurds in the north. Later the zone was expanded to prevent attacks against Shi'ite Muslims in the south.

Several council members, speaking on condition of anonymity, said eight weeks of arduous negotiations would be for naught if Washington continued, in their eyes, to misinterpret resolution 1441, and then expected support for any future action against Iraq.

"It's one thing to keep up 'zero tolerance' to put the squeeze on Iraq," one council source said. "But in practice they know perfectly well that the other 14 council members were voting for disarmament, not the no-fly zone, or there would have been no vote."

On Monday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in Chile for a meeting with Western Hemisphere defense ministers, was more measured than he had been on the issue in recent weeks.

"I do find it unacceptable that Iraq fires," Rumsfeld told a new conference in Santiago. "It is for the president of the United States and the U.N. Security Council to make judgments about their view of Iraq's behavior over a period of time."

Paragraph 8 of the Nov. 8 resolution said Baghdad cannot "take or threaten hostile acts" against a U.N. member "seeking to uphold any council resolution." Resolution 1441 gives Iraq one last chance to disarm or face "serious consequences."

Britain's U.N. ambassador, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, co-sponsor of the resolution, told the Security Council before the vote that paragraph 8 referred to any personnel that the inspectors might ask to help them and not the no-fly zones.

Diplomats assumed London and Washington had coordinated interpretations and shortly after the 15-0 vote, Russia's U.N. ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, echoed the British view, attributing it to "sponsors of the draft."

In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday: "Recent claims that Iraq's actions in the no-fly zones can be seen as a violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution 1441, have no legal grounds."

Some U.S. officials say Washington would not use the Iraqi attacks in the no-fly zone as a sole trigger for war, nor necessarily report them. But U.N. Security Council members say the issue is not one that should be discussed in connection with the resolution.

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