THE unanimous approval of Resolution 1441 by the United Nations Security Council last November was a momentous occasion.

We should not under-estimate the achievement of uniting the entire international community over the need to disarm Iraq.

As a direct result of that unequivocal message, there has been some movement towards disarmament in Iraq.

Saddam Hussein's regime is the weakest and most vulnerable it has been.

Camped just across his borders is the full military might of the United States and Britain, ready to strike if he should step out of line.

And within Iraq itself are UN weapons inspectors, given more freedom than ever before to verify Iraq's claim that it is disposing of weapons of mass destruction.

The international community, albeit bolstered by the threat of invasion, has isolated Saddam Hussein to such an extent that the threat he poses to peace and security within the Middle East and beyond is minimal.

It is a matter of great regret that we cannot be content at such an outcome, keep the diplomatic and military pressure on Iraq, and perhaps extend the model to other rogue regimes across the globe.

In seeking nothing but total and immediate disarmament by Iraq, the United States and Britain have boxed themselves into a diplomatic corner.

The bellicose stance of President Bush and Tony Blair leaves them little alternative but to push for war. Anything else will be perceived as a climbdown.

With Russia and France prepared to use their veto, the chances of gaining UN approval for military action are slim.

Increasingly, it looks like the US and Britain may have to take unilateral action against Iraq, against the wishes not only of most of the Arab world but also of some of its closest western allies.

Having themselves found Iraq guilty of blatantly ignoring the will of the international community, it will be interesting to see how President Bush and Mr Blair will themselves justify riding roughshod over the wishes of the UN.