- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

OK, flags not drapes
The United Nations, or at least some misguided official here, has relented on what is now internationally known as the "Guernica" cover-up.
"We will not be draping the picture again," one U.N. official confirmed Friday.
For the past two weeks, the organization has been shrouding "Guernica," Pablo Picasso's cubist anti-war masterpiece, a tapestry version that has hung outside the U.N. Security Council for 17 years. But the work was not covered every day, only when the council was to discuss Iraq's disarmament and the threat of a U.S.-led war.
The clumsy draping, which U.N. officials insisted was necessary to accommodate the camera crews, was first reported in The Washington Times on Feb. 3. With hundreds of journalists loitering outside the council last week, the draped tapestry made news around the world.
Tired of explaining that the unprecedented decision to cover up the anti-war masterpiece was artistic, not political, the U.N. has relented.
On Friday, when the chief weapons inspectors give their next and possibly last update on Iraq's cooperation, they will walk in front of a row of flags with "Guernica" behind. Score a posthumous victory for the communist cubist with a passion for peace.
Israel gains a post
Israel, long an outsider at the United Nations, was elected to its first U.N. General Assembly position last week as one of three vice chairmen on the Working Group on Disarmament.
This was the first position for which Israel was nominated, and it was elected unanimously.
Israel joined the "Western European and others" regional group two years ago, after four decades of being outside the system through which U.N. posts are distributed. It took years of arm-twisting by the Americans to add Israel, but the promise that the newest member would not challenge others for contested posts helped considerably.
U.S. 76, France 18
A U.S. official sneered last week that France's sole foreign policy is the Security Council veto.
That's oversimplified, of course.
But Paris likes to talk about vetoing, especially in the context of resisting U.S. imperialism and hegemony. The Security Council is one of the few forums where the French still have major clout, and they seem to like showing it off.
Nowhere is Paris' residual diplomatic weight more apparent than on the Iraq debate, where it occupies the Cold War-era no man's land between permanent members Russia and China on one side, and the United States and Britain on the other.
In theory, any language to which Washington and Paris can agree will win the support of the other three, and the 10 temporary elected members that lack the veto will have to fall into line.
But the French government has dug in its heels against military action in the Gulf, against a second resolution, against anything that would allow a first strike against Iraq.
Washington has indicated that it would welcome a second resolution explicitly authorizing force, useful because it would offer political cover to so many potential allies, but only if that resolution drops into its lap like a preapproved credit card.
The Americans are in no mood to spend months massaging the French ego. The "weeks not months" proviso is aimed at Paris as well as Baghdad.
So here's a word to Washington: Allez-y.
The French may eat tripe, wear fur and smoke indoors, but they are not spoilers.
The last time Paris vetoed a resolution was 1989, and they were joined by the United States and Britain on a forgotten resolution involving Panama.
France has used its veto 18 times in 54 years, while the United States has done so 76 times.
When and if the time comes to explicitly authorize force, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin or U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere will clear his throat at the big Security Council table and deliver a long and well-crafted speech about all that is legal, right and moral and then passionately abstain. Or halfheartedly join the U.S.-led consensus.
That is what the French do.
They abstained, for example, on council resolution 1284, which created the United Nations Monitoring, Inspection and Verification Commission inspection effort in 2000 and set out a guideline on how to lift Iraqi sanctions. They were joined by China and Russia, making up the trio of nations that most passionately support the inspectors now.
Contact Betsy Pisik at UNear@aol.com.

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