Speaking at a news conference in The Hague, where he held talks on the situation in Cyprus, Mr. Annan said: "The members of the Security Council now face a great choice. If they fail to agree on a common position, and action is taken without the authority of the Security Council, the legitimacy and support of any such action will be seriously impaired."
Asked specifically whether an attack on Iraq without Council authorization would violate the UN charter, Mr. Annan said: "If the US and others were to go outside the Council and take military action, it would not be in conformity with the Charter."
The United States, United Kingdom and Spain have introduced a draft resolution that presents Iraq with a 17 March deadline to cooperate fully with disarmament demands. France, Germany the Russian Federation and other Council members have voiced opposition to action at this time and seek continued and enhanced weapons inspections.
In a statement at the start of his news conference, Mr. Annan stressed that the entire international community needed to act together to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. "The determination of the Security Council to disarm Iraq of such weapons is the most urgent issue - because Iraq has actually used such weapons in the past, and because it has twice committed aggression against its neighbours," he said. "That is why the Security Council, ever since 1991, has passed successive resolutions requiring Iraq to disarm. On this critical question, there are no divisions, no grounds for doubt, dispute or delay.
"All around the globe, people want to see this crisis resolved peacefully. There is widespread concern about the long-term consequences of war in Iraq for the fight against terrorism; for the Middle East peace process; and for the world's ability to address common concerns in the future if deep divisions are sowed today between nations and between peoples of different religion."
Mr. Annan referred to human suffering, regional instability and economic crisis that could spring from war and said that if Security Council members "can come together, even at this late hour, to address this threat in a united manner and ensure compliance with their previous resolutions, then the Council's authority will be enhanced, and the world will be a safer place.
"The broader the consensus on Iraq, the better the chance that we can come together again and deal effectively with other burning conflicts in the world, starting with the one between Israelis and Palestinians."
In Iraq, meanwhile, UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) teams supervised the destruction of six more banned Al Samoud 2 missiles today, bringing the number to 52 since the 1 March deadline set by UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix for starting the process.
They also supervised the destruction of three warheads, bringing the total to 19 since 1 March, eliminated all the computer software used for launching the missiles in a command and control vehicle, and started destroying materials related to the Al Samoud at the Waziriyah plant, 10 kilometres north of Baghdad.
UNMOVIC also conducted a private interview with an Iraqi individual, who had taken part in the unilateral destruction of precursors for chemical weapons production.
UNMOVIC biological teams supervised further excavations at Al Aziziyah of R-400 bombs, which Iraq has said were filled with biological agents and unilaterally destroyed in 1991, and inspected a branch of the Mesopotamia State Company for Seed Handling. A chemical team inspected the State Company for Leather Industry.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) teams reviewed the status of radioactive waste remaining in a waste storage site at Al Tuwaitha, 25 kilometres south of Baghdad, and performed a car-borne radiation survey there.