Vienna, 20 March 2003 - Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner made the following statement on the initiation of military action against Iraq today: "Just a few hours ago it has become a matter of certainty that a solution of the Iraq crisis by using only political and diplomatic means has become impossible. At 03:33 CET the news arrived that fighting had started. Shortly thereafter, US President Bush confirmed in a TV address that these first military measures represented the "opening phase of what will be a broad and concerted campaign" aimed at the disarmament of Iraq. The use of arms has now "unfortunately become bitter reality," the Foreign Minister said.
Ferrero-Waldner expressed the hope that "the fighting will be short and restricted in its extent and that it will be possible to keep the number of victims among the civilian population as low as possible."
"Numerous states, among them Austria, have made intensive efforts to solve the crisis peacefully on the basis of the UN-weapons inspections. These efforts have unfortunately failed to attain the success we had all hoped for," the Foreign Minister stated.
Ferrero-Waldner in this context pointed to the fact that Austria, in accordance with the Austrian National Council Resolution of 29 January 2003, clearly adhered to the opinion that any possible military action against Iraq definitely required the express approval of UN Security Council.
The National Security Council had recommended to the Federal Government "to continue in its definite adherence to the position taken by the European Union - in particular with regard to EU support of the efforts made by the UN Security Council to implement all relevant resolutions, notably Resolution 1441, and with regard to Iraq's necessary complete disarmament of weapons of mass destruction." Moreover, the Council had recommended that "it should be made clear both in the EU and the United Nations that Austria considered the express approval of the UN Security Council a prerequisite for any military action against Iraq."
Under Resolution 1441, the UN Security Council had offered Iraq a last opportunity to implement all relevant Security Council resolutions and to rid itself of all weapons of mass destruction, as Iraq would otherwise incur serious consequences. "In the Austrian opinion it is the exclusive competence of the UN Security Council to ascertain Iraq's non-compliance with these requirements and to interpret the "serious consequences," Ferrero-Waldner said, also pointing to the fact that the European Council meeting in Brussels today would discuss in detail the recent developments in the Iraq crisis.
"For Austria, the rules of neutrality have become applicable with the onset of military action against Iraq. This means that Austrian national territory and Austrian air space will be closed for transit movements of armed forces and military transit flights operated by states involved in the military action; Austria will permit transit transports and flights only in cases that serve humanitarian goals or have been approved by the United Nations Security Council," Ferrero-Waldner stated.
In the opinion of the Austrian Foreign Minister it is now of "particular importance" that the United Nations are put in a position as soon as possible and to the utmost possible extent to reassume a helpful and useful role in the Iraq crisis, especially also with regard to humanitarian issues and the protection of the many refugees who will now be seeking protection against the fighting within and outside of the borders of Iraq."