Mandela rebukes U.S. for threats to attack Iraq

Sept. 2, 2002, 3:42PM
Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Nelson Mandela said today that he is “appalled” by U.S. threats to attack Iraq and warned that Washington is “introducing chaos in international affairs.” He said he had spoken with President Bush’s father and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

As several world leaders at a summit here urged restraint by the United States, South Africa’s revered former president issued a stinging rebuke to the Bush administration.

“We are really appalled by any country, whether a superpower or a small country, that goes outside the U.N. and attacks independent countries,” Mandela said before going into a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac. “No country should be allowed to take the law into their own hands.”

The United States has made toppling Saddam Hussein a priority, accusing the Iraqi leader of developing weapons of mass destruction despite U.N. resolutions that prohibit him from doing so. Vice President Cheney has argued in favor of pre-emptive military action to remove Saddam from power.

“What they are saying is introducing chaos in international affairs, and we condemn that in the strongest terms,” Mandela said.

The 1993 Nobel Peace Prize winner said he tried to call Bush to discuss the matter but that the president was not available. Mandela said he instead spoke with Powell and former President George Bush. He also planned to speak by telephone with Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s assistant for national security.

A number of top figures from the previous Bush administration have spoken out recently against unilateral military action — raising speculation that the elder Bush shares some of their doubts. The former president, however, has kept silent on his son’s Iraq policy.

Chirac, who is in South Africa to attend the World Summit on Sustainable Development, said he shared “a common position on the assessment and approach of these issues” with Mandela.

South Africa’s current president, Thabo Mbeki, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder also urged America to exercise restraint.

The two leaders met on the fringes of the summit and “agreed they were not comfortable with any military action being taken against Iraq,” said Essop Pahad, a Cabinet minister in Mbeki’s office.

In Moscow, Russia’s foreign minister said the return of international weapons inspectors was key to resolving the crisis over Iraq and warned that military action by the United States could touch off further troubles in the volatile Middle East.

“Any forceful solution regarding Iraq would not only complicate regulation of (the crisis surrounding) Iraq still further, but would also undermine the situation in the Persian Gulf and Middle East,” Igor Ivanov said after talks with his Iraqi counterpart, Naji Sabri.

The sanctions imposed on Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990 cannot be lifted until U.N. inspectors certify the country’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs have been dismantled, along with the long-range missiles to deliver them.

Inspectors left Baghdad ahead of American and British airstrikes in December 1998 to punish Iraq for not cooperating with inspections. Iraq has barred them from returning.

Saddam said today that the United States insists on overthrowing him because it seeks to control all the oil in the Middle East.

“America thinks if it controls the oil of the Middle East then it will control the world,” the Iraqi leader told an envoy from Belarus, according to the official Iraqi News Agency.

“By destroying Iraq, America thinks it could control the oil of the Middle East and force the prices it wants on clients like France, China, Japan and other countries of the world,” Saddam said.

Saddam said the U.N. sanctions on Iraq were aimed in part to “prevent former Soviet Union countries from cooperating economically with Iraq.”

In a speech at the Johannesburg summit, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz railed against U.S. threats and demanded a lifting of the U.N. embargo that has crippled Iraq’s economy.

“The U.S. is threatening to launch another large-scale aggression against Iraq that would bring about more devastation and subsequently lead to further catastrophes on the environment,” he said.

In Baghdad today, Iraqi officials took journalists on a tour of a site suspected to have been part of Iraq’s nuclear program, but which the government says produced agriculture fertilizers.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s longtime rival Iran warned that it would not stand by if its neighbor is attacked. Only the Iraqi people — not a world power — should determine the country’s future, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said in Teheran.

“Iran will not stand idle before such instability, because if a country decides to overthrow another country’s government, this will create a norm,” he said.

And a group of 37 Protestant and other church leaders from North America and Britain sent letters to their respective governments Friday expressing concern about “the likely human costs of war with Iraq, particularly for civilians,” the World Council of Churches said today. They warned an attack would strengthen those promoting extremism and terrorism.