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War allies pledge aid millions

Annan: "It is the plight of the Iraqi people which is now my most immediate concern."

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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- The United States and Britain have pledged millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to ease the impact of a war with Iraq but faced criticism at the U.N. for abandoning diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan estimated Wednesday the immediate cost of humanitarian aid in the event of war at $123.5 million.

"I'm afraid we shall very soon be coming back with an appeal for much larger sums to finance actual relief operations," Annan told the Security Council.

President Bush gave Iraqi President Saddam Hussein a deadline of 8 p.m. ET Wednesday to leave Iraq and go into exile or face attack by more than 250,000 U.S. and British troops massed in the region. Iraq has rejected the ultimatum.

Annan said international law holds occupying powers responsible for the welfare of the population in the territory they control, but added "the United Nations will do whatever we can to help."

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte told the Security Council the United States has dedicated "significant resources" to prepare for the humanitarian needs of Iraqi people if war begins and will support efforts to keep the U.N. oil-for-food program in place to pay for relief efforts.

"We have pre-positioned $16.5 million worth of food rations and relief supplies, including water and purification materials, blankets and shelter supplies in the region," Negroponte said.

"In addition, we have contributed over $60 million to more than a dozen different U.N. agencies... as well as a multitude of non-governmental organizations."

British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said his government has set aside $110 million for humanitarian aid and is likely to announce further funding.

International Development Secretary Clare Short, who had threatened to resign if there was war without a second Security Council resolution, was at the United Nations for meetings with Annan on the subject, Greenstock said.

Greenstock and Negroponte said their governments want the U.N. oil-for-food program, which funds food and medical aid to Iraq, to continue after a war.

The United States and Security Council allies Britain and Spain dropped efforts to seek U.N. backing for an invasion Monday, blaming French threats of a veto for the impasse.

France and Russia insisted on giving inspectors more time to verify Iraqi claims that it has given up weapons of mass destruction.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said no U.N. resolution authorizes the use of force against Iraq or "authorizes the violent overthrow of the leadership of a sovereign state."

Wednesday's meeting was called for Security Council foreign ministers, but only six ministers attended. Among those skipping the meeting were U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said he and other ministers attended the session "to show our support for the key role of the Security Council and the United Nations in the crisis in Iraq."

"I think that the United Nations is more important than ever," de Villepin said. "We need collective responsibility, we need legitimacy, and the United Nations are made for that."

The United States and Britain accused Iraq of failing to comply with U.N. resolutions demanding it give up chemical and biological weapons, long-range missiles and any nuclear weapons program.

They say Iraq must be disarmed -- by force, if necessary -- in order to prevent Saddam from arming terrorists with weapons of mass destruction.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix presented the council a list of key remaining disarmament tasks that remain to be addressed.

But now that U.N. staff members have evacuated Iraq in advance of an expected attack, Blix said, the list of tasks "would seem to have only limited practical relevance in the current situation."

Negroponte said inspectors would be needed to verify Iraq's disarmament after a war. But he added: "Considering a work program at this time is quite simply out of touch with the reality we confront."

Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Aldouri said the United States, Britain and Spain thwarted efforts to defuse the crisis "with the intent of launching a war of aggression against Iraq."

"For the record and for the sake of historical accuracy, and to reassure all the states that have made active efforts recently for peace and for the prevention of war, we reiterate once again that Iraq no longer possesses weapons of mass destruction," he said.

"The presence of those weapons is a matter that is relegated to a bygone stage."

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