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U.N. Needs to Act Quickly

September 24, 2002

It's too early to give up on efforts to make Iraq comply with weapons inspections. But as Saddam Hussein once again--predictably--plays his cynical games, the United Nations needs to lay down tough resolutions and timetables or lose all credibility by watching helplessly as the Bush administration prepares for war.

When President Bush appeared before the U.N. on Sept. 12, he energized the delegates with his demand that the organization crack down on Iraq or face becoming a second League of Nations, which lost respect and eventually ceased to exist over its failure to stop Italy's fascist militarism. Bush put the U.N. in the driver's seat--temporarily. He reminded his audience of a decade of U.N. resolutions that Hussein has flouted as well as the Iraqi leader's violations of international law, including an assassination plot against the first President Bush and the use of weapons of mass destruction on his own people.

The message was clear: Enough is enough. Either the U.N. stops Hussein or the U.S. will. That message was bolstered by the resolution that Bush sent to Congress on Thursday asking for open-ended authority to battle terrorist threats abroad.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was elated when he announced last week that Iraq would readmit weapons inspectors. Oops. Turns out that Iraq says it won't abide by any new U.N. resolution permitting monitors to enter key presidential compounds, which, of course, are some of the sites that may contain the worst of Iraq's weapons. The truth is that Iraq has turned any weapons inspections into an exercise in futility. Hussein apparently thinks he can go back to his old tricks--promise one thing one day, another the next. Once the inspectors arrive, he blocks their efforts.

Annan was absolutely right to warn the Iraqis on Monday "not to hedge on their acceptance" of weapons inspections or any new Security Council resolutions. Now the U.N. Security Council needs to reach a quick resolution that leaves Hussein no outs.

The Bush administration is right to insist that the Security Council approve a resolution that carries the threat of force if Iraq does not comply with full and open inspections. If necessary, the administration might have to go along with two resolutions--one outlining demands, the second the use of force. But any second resolution should have a timetable attached. Otherwise, Baghdad will simply stall.

President Bush didn't listen to the hawks in his administration who wanted to do an end run around the U.N. If the U.N. wants to remain relevant, it needs to act. Now.

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