- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2003

The State Department is already making plans to “water down” the United Nations resolution calling for U.N. involvement in Iraq, according to several administration officials.

The exact form of potential changes is not entirely clear, but they will likely comport with requests from Security Council members, particularly Russia and France. Notes one administration official, “They (State’s top leadership) are really going to be pushing for a unanimous vote.”

The State Department was no doubt pleased by President Bush’s comment yesterday that he is “open for suggestions” from other nations on the Security Council. Many at the State Department view the resolution as an opportunity to score points with countries like France, Germany and Russia. Although it is unlikely the State Department would want to do any favors for Syria, a concerted push for a unanimous vote could also entail just that.

While a unanimous vote is always a feather in the cap, it is not necessary for passage of the latest measure. At this point, passage is almost a forgone conclusion. Only five nations have the power to veto a Security Council resolution: the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China. Britain obviously would not block a U.S.-sponsored measure, and Russia, China, and France have all signaled through back channels that they will not veto the U.N. resolution, according to an administration official.

The clear path to passage should come somewhat as a surprise, considering that many hawks inside the administration find the current text at least tolerable. Strangest of all is probably France’s quiet agreement not to veto shortly after making very public noises about a possible veto.

Yet, France’s willingness to let the U.N. resolution go through — which could mean France staying neutral — does not seem to have curbed State’s desire to modify the existing language. And, the president’s apparent willingness to “compromise” — his word — means that the final product could come out bearing only moderate resemblance to the initial text. According to those who have worked on the resolution, possible changes could include giving the United Nations more defined roles in civilian administration, establishing elections, and even military efforts.

The first taste of what could be in store should happen this weekend, when Secretary of State Colin Powell travels to Geneva to meet with representatives from France, Britain, Russia and China. The State Department’s official line is that only concepts will be discussed, and that there will be no negotiations on details of the resolution.

While the gathering of representatives of the five permanent Security Council members will probably not be a bargaining session, it will be the first place where Mr. Powell indicates to his counterparts in private how tough the United States will be at the actual negotiating table. With some in the administration seeking to have a final deal sealed by the time the president addresses the United Nations on Sept. 23, discussions of the details likely will come right on the heels of the Geneva meeting.

One area of the resolution that is not likely to see any change, at least not for the better, is the next-to-last paragraph. It contains the only language that defines the United States as the leader of the “unified” military force. But the language is fairly weak: “[T]he United States, on behalf of all member states participating in the multinational force, (shall) report to the Security Council on the efforts and progress of this force as appropriate and not less than every six months.”

Britain wants even that one weak reference deleted, according to an administration official close to the discussions. That is not likely, however, given that no other country has an incentive for anyone besides the United States to be in a position to shoulder the blame for military failures.

One of the most likely deals to be struck will not probably not appear anywhere in the final resolution. France and Russia — two countries that sided with Saddam before the war — want in on the big-dollar contracts in Iraq. Although the American companies with the large contracts are already subcontracting to foreign firms, France and Russia are pushing for explicit assurances that their companies will get a cut of the action.

With the U.N. resolution moving forward at a fairly brisk pace, the State Department has two options: 1) taking advantage of “no veto” pledges from the other Security Council members to push through a resolution almost identical to the initial text, or 2) attempting to win brownie points from countries who opposed liberation of the Iraqi people in the course of securing a needless unanimous vote. Unfortunately for the Iraqi people, the State Department may decide to take the latter path.

JoelMowbray occasionally writes for The Washington Times.

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