WASHINGTON _ U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Sunday that, contrary to U.S. assertions, the United States would need to consult with the U.N. Security Council before mounting a military strike against Iraq.
"If the United States had to strike, I think some sort of consultations with the other members would be required," Annan said on ABC's "This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts."
Annan stressed that if Iraq breaks the agreement on full access for U.N. weapons inspectors he reached with President Saddam Hussein, "It would be much easier to get agreement in the council to take military action."
But he noted that three permanent members of the Security Council, Russia, France and China, have objected to giving the United States carte blanche to launch military action.
The Clinton administration insists that U.N. resolutions approved at the time of the Gulf War give the necessary legal authority for unilateral action in the event of Iraqi violations.
But the administration consulted extensively with other U.N. members and allies around the world as it prepared to attack Iraq last month over the stonewalling of U.N. inspection teams. The attack was averted narrowly when Annan went to Baghdad and convinced Saddam that he must open all sites to weapons inspectors.
State Department spokesman James P. Rubin, traveling with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Sunday in Europe, said he was not aware of Annan's comment but would not be surprised if the Security Council discussed how to respond to Iraqi noncompliance with council resolutions.
"A discussion is not ruled out, but it isn't required that that discussion yield a positive decision on the part of the council," Rubin said.
Annan also said that the Security Council should consider a request from Russia that a Russian be named as a second deputy on the U.N. weapons inspection commission.
Bill Richardson, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has indicated the United States might veto that request. Russia has been sympathetic to Iraq's demands that economic sanctions be ended. The Americans are reluctant to put a Russian in a senior role in the inspection team because the teams must determine when Iraq has destroyed all its weapons of mass destruction, a condition for the lifting of economic sanctions.
"I will proceed in the sense of putting the issue before the council members, and the United States can exercise its veto, but at least the council will be able to discuss whether it is a legitimate request," Annan said.
The Ghanaian diplomat said he also will urge the Security Council to extend the U.N. troop presence in Macedonia in light of Serbia's military strikes last week in neighboring Kosovo. The U.N. mandate in Macedonia ends on Aug. 31.
"In light of the recent developments I think we all have to reconsider our approach and am confident that the member states will take a second look and not insist on withdrawing the troops from Macedonia," Annan said.
As of March 1, there were 785 U.N. troops in Macedonia, of which 385 were Americans.
In December, the Security Council agreed unanimously to start phasing out the mission looking to a firm Aug. 31 deadline, with "the withdrawal of the military component (to come) immediately thereafter."
At the time, Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov said "there could be no question" that the peacekeepers would leave within a few days of the expiration date. Russia has pushed to remove the peacekeepers since the U.S.-mediated end of Bosnia's ethnic wars in 1995.