Let me be clear from the start: The tension that prevails throughout the world as we speak is a direct consequence of the persistent refusal of the government of Iraq to comply with its obligations to the international community under UN Security Council resolutions.

For 11 years, President Saddam Hussein has continued to show wanton disregard for the demands of the international community and the needs of his own people. His past actions and his present obstinance have inflicted catastrophic suffering on the people of Iraq. The consequences of his defiance in the face of international sanctions are seen in Iraq’s wretched living standards.

Under Security Council resolutions 687 and 1284, adopted in April 1991, which ended military operations following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Iraq accepted unconditionally the elimination under international supervision of all its weapons of mass destruction [WMD] and long-range missiles and to allow UN inspections to verify its compliance.

Despite this formal acceptance, Iraq has refused to comply with the UN resolutions. Iraqi officials made systematic efforts to conceal their weapons programs and to deceive the UN inspectors. Although considerable elements of the Iraqi WMD and missile development programs were revealed and destroyed, the work of the UN inspectors was never completed.

At this point in time, we all must do our utmost to ensure that Iraq understands that its compliance with these resolutions is not optional. It is not a matter for negotiation or mediation…

The government of Iraq is aware of what is required of it. It understands the link between compliance and the lifting of sanctions, as laid out in Security Council resolutions 687 and 1284. We recognize that the sanctions issue is a difficult one, raising painful questions about the effect of sanctions on ordinary Iraqis.

But let us also remember that Iraq has always had the option of ending sanctions by complying with the Security Council resolutions, rather than continuing to subvert them. It has smuggled oil out of Iraq in order to generate revenues—but not to meet the real and urgent needs of the Iraqi people. These revenues have instead been allocated to weapons programs and to reinforcing the structures of authoritarian rule. At various times, the government of Iraq has placed its own restrictions on oil sales and embargoed imports from other countries, including Canada, without regard for the dire needs of its population.

The world has been frustrated by the lack of progress on this issue, to the point where over the summer months we were all concerned with the possibility of unilateral action by the US. At that time, we stated publicly and repeatedly that the appropriate forum for discussion and authorization of such action was the UN Security Council…

The prime minister conveyed clearly to President Bush Canada’s desire to work through the UN system if any enforcement measures were to be considered against Iraq. For this reason, Canada and much of the world welcomed President Bush’s commitment to the UN General Assembly that the United States would work with the Security Council in addressing the threat posed by Iraq. We took to heart the challenge set out by the president. Now we must show that the UN can in fact assume its proper role and demonstrate its effectiveness by resolving this crisis.

I met with Iraq’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Naji Sabri, in New York on September 17. I welcomed Iraq’s decision to accept the return of UN weapons inspectors. I told Mr. Sabri that his government must accept the return of the inspectors as early as possible and that it must work with UNMOVIC [UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission] openly and unconditionally. I added that world opinion was skeptical of the government of Iraq’s assurances because of its long history of obstruction and its failure to comply with Security Council resolutions.

Mr. Sabri assured me that Iraq wants the sanctions lifted so that it can return to the family of nations. But given Iraq’s track record, we cannot accept these assurances at face value.

It is for this reason that we support the United States and the United Kingdom in their efforts to obtain a strong and clear Security Council resolution that will achieve two vital purposes: first, to provide Iraq with a fair and final opportunity to comply with the UN inspectors; and, second, to set out the consequences if it does not…

This process has a long way to go. We must not lose sight of the absolute need to make Saddam Hussein understand the choice he faces. He can comply and have Iraq’s sovereignty and security assured by the community of nations. Or he can continue to flout his international legal obligations and face the inevitable consequences.

We do not make these assertions lightly. Nor is our insistence on working through the multilateral process undertaken without a careful analysis of what must be done. We are aware of the gravity of the situation, but we are also aware of the dangers that conflict would bring to the greater region, and of what would likely be the terrible human cost.

In these circumstances, unilateral action may have the benefit of clarity, but it lacks legitimacy. It risks destabilizing world order and destroying the credibility of the UN; it risks destabilizing the Middle East; it risks destabilizing countries well beyond the region, from Pakistan (threatening what we are trying to do in Afghanistan) to Indonesia, India and Malaysia.

The use of force threatens the security of Israel. Prime Minister Sharon has threatened to retaliate if his country is attacked.

We are also concerned by what would be an enormous task of reconstruction. And here, those who advocate war as means of reconstructing Iraq should be mindful of the wise words of Lester Pearson: “The grim fact is that we prepare for war like precocious giants, and for peace like retarded pygmies.”

The point of our efforts is not to bring the parties to conflict, but to avoid it if possible. But we can’t let this diminish our resolve. The objective is to rid the Iraqi regime of weapons of mass destruction.

As the prime minister emphasized in this House this morning, Canadians are proud of our longstanding tradition in foreign policy, which has been to promote dialogue and understanding among the peoples of the world and to seek political and diplomatic solutions even in the face of imminent conflict. By continuing to act consistently with these values, world peace and security will be enhanced and international institutions strengthened.

To those who call upon us to follow blindly whenever and wherever the US would lead—even if such actions would threaten the multilateral system we have built together with our American partners so painstakingly over the past 50 years—we say this: true friends talk straight to one another, and that’s why their opinions are valued.

Let me conclude with a critical point. Our objective is to rid the Iraqi regime of weapons of mass destruction. There are those who claim that regime change is the only means to this end. If Iraq refuses to cooperate, they could be right. But our responsibility—to Canadians, to the world community and to the future of the international rule of law—is to be certain that we have exhausted all other options and that we so conduct ourselves in this crisis that the international order on which Canada so much depends emerges strengthened and reinforced.

This is an edited version of a speech to the House of Commons by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham, delivered October 1, 2002.

Bill Graham
William Carvel Graham is a Canadian lawyer, law professor, and Chancellor of Trinity College at the University of Toronto. Graham is also a former politician, having served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of National Defence, Leader of the Opposition, and interim Leader of Liberal Party.

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