- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

UNITED NATIONS, March 8 (UPI) — The 15 members of the U.N. Security Council remained deeply divided going into a weekend break following reports by the top weapons inspectors Friday in a day of intense diplomatic maneuvers over the question of imminent war with Iraq.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix conceded that there had been an "acceleration of initiatives on the Iraq side," but said he still needed more information and more time, perhaps "months."

Subsequent statements by the foreign ministers of the member countries seemed to observers to follow the earlier split between those who favored extending the time for weapons inspections, and the U.S.-led group favoring immediate and full disarmament by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein or a U.S.-led invasion.

In an emotional statement Friday, British Secretary of State Jack Straw proposed an amendment to a U.N. draft resolution setting a March 17 deadline for Baghdad to demonstrate "full, unconditional, immediate and active cooperation in accordance with its disarmament obligations."

France's Dominique de Villepin replied, "We cannot accept an ultimatum as long as inspectors are reporting co-operation. France will not allow a resolution to pass that authorizes the automatic use of force."

After more than four hours of formal debate on the draft, followed by a late luncheon and bilateral discussions between ministers, the permanent U.N. representatives of council member nations met in closed-door consultations for another three hours well into the night Friday. The ministers then headed home.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte afterwards said it was agreed to resume consultations Monday, giving capitals time to consider the new draft. A vote on it was not expected before Tuesday, he said.

Not discussed in the council, according to a U.N. official, but appearing in the corridors outside the chambers and quickly finding its way into reporters' hands, was an unsigned paper appearing to be another draft resolution, offering amnesty to Iraqi officials cooperating with U.N. inspectors.

It added that any threat to their security and safety would be regarded as a material breach of Iraq's obligations to the relevant council resolutions.

However, council members denied knowledge of the amnesty proposal and no government claimed responsibility. Council diplomats said they considered only the Britain-Spain-U.S. resolution.

France's de Villepin earlier said France would "not accept a resolution that will lead to war" but did not specifically use the word "veto."

France is one of the five permanent members — together with the United States, Britain, Russia, and China — with power of veto. But de Villepin stopped short of saying his country would veto the resolution.

He called for a summit on Iraq, saying, "The heads of state and government must meet again here in New York, at the Security Council." Initial reaction to that call was cool.

With a vote expected on the British proposal as early as next week, there appeared little change in the lineup of for and against a second measure.

The United States, Spain and Bulgaria endorse the U.S.-British-Spanish resolution, while China, France, Germany, Russia and Syria oppose it.

There were with only slightly nuanced indications of possible shifts in the thinking of the fence-sitting six of Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan.

It takes nine positive votes and no vetoes to approve a resolution, which in this case would carry the weight of international law.

The previous draft resolution before the panel gave no deadline but there were strong indications from both London and Washington the British-U.S. alliance was willing to launch an attack on Iraq imminently in retaliation for what they see as Baghdad's lack of cooperation with the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission. More than 200,000 troops of the "coalition of the willing" have been deployed near Iraq.

Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Aldouri said, "War against Iraq will not unearth any weapons of mass destruction but it will wreak destruction for a very simple reason. There are no such weapons except in the imagination of some."

Blix told the council Friday inspections "will not take years, nor weeks, but months," adding that "Even with a proactive Iraqi attitude induced by continued outside pressure it will still take some time to verify."

Inspectors had found no evidence that Iraq is moving weapons of mass destruction to avoid detection, or had mobile laboratories, he said.

Blix said the destruction of al-Samoud 2 missiles is a significant step toward disarmament. Blix had ordered the missiles to be scrapped because their range exceeds the 150 kilometers (93 miles) permitted by the United Nations.

This was not "watching the breaking of toothpicks," said Blix. "Lethal weapons are being destroyed." He said 34 missiles had been destroyed so far, but noted that the process had not gone on Friday and hoped it was only a "temporary" break in routine.

Britain's Straw said, "The council must send Iraq the clear message that we will resolve this crisis on the United Nations' terms, the terms which the council established four months ago, when we unanimously adopted Resolution 1441," which authorized the return of inspectors after a four-year absence.

"The paradox we face is that the only way we are going to achieve disarmament by peace of a rogue regime which all of us know has been in defiance of this council for the past 12 years, the only way we can achieve their disarmament of their weapons of mass destruction, which this council has said poses a threat to international peace and security, is by backing our diplomacy with the credible threat of force," London's minister said.

"I wish we lived in a different world, where this was not necessary, but sadly, we live in that world," he said.

Then, sidestepping diplomatic protocol by directly addressing de Villepin, and doing so by his first name, sitting across the blond wood horseshoe-shaped table from him, Straw continued, "The choice, Dominique, is not ours as to how this disarmament takes place. The choice is Saddam Hussein's. It's his choice. It's his choice. Would that it were ours, because it would be so easy. But sadly, it is not.

De Villepin, who saw the situation entirely differently, said, "We all see it. In Iraq, we are resolutely moving toward completely eliminating programs of weapons of mass destruction.

"The method we have chosen, works; the information supplied by Baghdad has been verified by the inspectors and is leading to the elimination of banned ballistic equipment," he said. "We are proceeding the same way with all the other programs: with information, verification, destruction."

"Is it a matter of regime change in Baghdad?" de Villepin asked. "No one underestimates the cruelty of this dictatorship and the need to do everything possible to promote human rights," he said, pointing out that is not the object of Resolution 1441.

Said de Villepin, "Will the world be a safer place after a military intervention in Iraq? I want to tell you what my country's conviction is: No."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's statement was dispassionate but detailed, rejecting the inspectors' report of recent progress as justification for prolonging the inspections, saying Blix's report was "a catalog of non-cooperation." He said governments "must not walk away" from the option of force on Iraq.

"Now is the time for the council to send a clear message to Saddam that we have not been taken in by his transparent tactics," he said.

"Now is the time for the council to tell Saddam that the clock has not been stopped by his stratagems and his machinations.

"The clock continues to tick. And the consequences of Saddam Hussein's continued refusal to disarm will be very, very real."

The Times of London reported Saturday that Blix infuriated American officials by failing to tell the foreign ministers about the discovery of a large new Iraqi drone which is subject to the same U.N. rules as missiles. It had been test-flown for 500km (300 miles) non-stop; the U.N. limit is 150km.

The discovery was reported in a six-page addendum to Blix's report, which was not circulated until after the Security Council meeting.




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