View Full Version : Former U.N. Chief Warns That Military Action Against Iran Would Be "A Real Disaster"

03-21-2008, 08:14 AM
Former UN chief warns that military action against Iran would be "a real disaster"


The Associated Press
Published: March 20, 2008

NEW YORK: Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned Thursday that military action against Iran would be "a real disaster" and the Middle East could explode if the international community does not handle the many conflicts in the region very carefully.

He said there was "quite a bit of hypocrisy on all sides" in trying to resolve the five-year conflict in Darfur, especially in encouraging the African Union to take on peacekeeping when everyone knew it had no resources. He also criticized well-equipped countries for refusing to provide essential helicopters for the joint AU-U.N. force that took over peacekeeping in January.

At a wide-ranging round-table with invited journalists, Annan urged U.N. member states to heed the warning of peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno that with more than 100,000 troops in the field, U.N. peacekeeping operations are overstretched.

"I don't think the U.N. is in a position today to go and take over in Afghanistan," he said. "I don't think the U.N. will get the resources to go and play a major and active role in Somalia. We are already struggling to get the resources for Darfur, where some have declared it a genocide."

"So I think we need to be realistic, and in some cases make it very clear that there are limits to our capacities — what we can do and what we cannot do," Annan said.

He also said "it's unfair to press the secretary-general or the U.N. to go into a situation which is patently insecure."

The U.N.'s work is reaching people, Annan said, and "to go and sit in an area, whether it's (Baghdad's) Green Zone or the most protected area where you cannot get to the people and they cannot come to you, and you cannot do what you are there for — it's symbolism."

"You are not really making any difference, and we shouldn't put in more people until it's safe," he said.

Annan stressed that the world today is "very difficult and violent," and there are some conflicts — which he did not identify — where no one wants to get involved.

"The powerful countries with means will not touch it with a barge pole," Annan said. "They will support weak, ineffectual initiatives by others, sometimes by a sub-regional or regional organization, to create the impression of action, and we don't see any progress or any movement."

"I think at the end of the day in those situations — I don't know how you'll do it — one will have to find a way of awakening the people in the country or the region concerned to get them to understand that no one could want peace more than they do, and they should really buckle down," he said.

He gave the example of the Lord's Resistance Army and the Ugandan government signing a cease-fire agreement last month in the latest step toward ending an insurgency that has lasted more than two decades.

Again, Annan called for transparency and openness on what the international community will and will not do, "because to create the impression of action when nothing effective is happening I think is more damaging to the situation."

On Iran's dispute with the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear program, Annan said he did not have enough information to determine whether Iran's nuclear program is peaceful — as Tehran maintains.

He said he told the Iranians that "if indeed you have nothing to hide and you are not making a bomb and your intentions are pacific, open your doors, let the inspectors come, let them go anywhere — find a way of reassuring the world, not just the U.S. ... that you have no intention of producing nuclear weapons."

How should the Iranian issue be tackled? "I really do not see any other solution than the continued negotiations and the dialogue that is going on," he said.

"We cannot, I'm sure, take on another military action in Iran, and I hope no one is contemplating it. It would be a real disaster," Annan stressed.

Calling the broader Middle East "a very dangerous region," he said, "many conflicts have converged and are feeding off each other, and the international community has to handle that situation very carefully because any miscalculation can lead to very serious explosions."

He called Lebanon's political crisis and inability to elect a president "very worrying," adding that it was a bit like the conflict between the Palestinians. He also cited the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Sunni-Shiite divide in Iraq and other Mideast countries, and not far away the worrying problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Annan returned to New York to receive the first MacArthur Award for International Justice from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. As secretary-general, he promoted the concept of an international "responsibility to protect" which was adopted by world leaders at a 2005 summit.

He said his recent successful mediation after Kenya's postelection violence "was a hopeful example" of putting this responsibility into practice.