America the Arm-Twister
America the Arm-Twister
Ed Vulliamy in New York, Peter Beaumont in London, Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow and Paul Webster in Paris
The Observer UK
Sunday 02 March 2003
In the conflict over a second resolution that could trigger a war, the 'Middle Six' nations on the UN Security Council face a barrage of bribes, persuasion and blatant threats.
Samoud is a word with a special meaning in Arabic. In recent weeks it has come to international attention as the name of Saddam Hussein's proscribed missile system, synonymous with the white, finned tubes thick as tree trunks which Hans Blix, the UN's chief weapons inspector, has ordered for destruction.
But in the Arab world it has another resonance; 'to be steadfast'. In truth, however, it means something more. Particularly in the context of the Palestinian struggle, samoud is understood as a form of existential resistance, an absolute refusal to give in even when faced with occupation by one's enemies, a quality invoked by Saddam in his struggles with the US and its allies.
This 'steadfastness' of the strong has turned negotiations for a new resolution to authorise war against Iraq into a colossal contest between America, Britain and Spain, who believe that war is inevitable, and France, Russia and Germany, who are seeking to avoid it. The prize is the very future of the UN and the shape of international relations.
All sides in what is set to be one of the most bruising encounters on the Security Council in a generation have set out their positions, as America and its allies try to secure a resolution authorising war for what they say is Iraq's non-compliance with resolution 1441. Next Friday that battle will come to a head when the council meets to hear what is likely to be the last report by Blix. Then the US and Britain will push for a vote on their new resolution to declare Iraq in material breach and authorise war.
Tony Blair made it clear this weekend that he will not back down and that he is, perhaps, more hawkish than George Bush. For his part, Bush has reaffirmed that only the total disarmament of Iraq and the removal of Saddam will lift the prospect of war, a combination so unlikely that war is virtually guaranteed.
On the anti-war side, positions appear to be hardening by an equal measure. Russia has let it be known in private - if not in public - briefings that it might exercise its veto, following similar warnings from the French.
Torn between the two sides on the Security Council are the so-called Middle Six - Angola, Cameroon, Guinea, Chile, Mexico and Pakistan - whose support or otherwise is likely to characterise how the world, particularly the Islamic world, reacts to any US-led war.
The fight over the Middle Six has been characterised by threats, cajoling, US spying on their missions and blatant bribes. Seasoned diplomats have looked on in awe or felt the heat as America mounted its offensive to browbeat the nations it needs for a Security Council majority clearing the path to war.
When White House spokesman Ari Fleischer denied strong-arm tactics by the US diplomatic service, correspondents to whom he was talking on Thursday laughed and he left the briefing room.
Meanwhile, the people for whom Fleischer speaks - Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney - have been picking off countries one by one, with a mixture of courtship and threats, each tailored to match that nation's dependence on the US and the leverage of American power.
The missions of the Middle Six, on New York's Upper East Side, have been inundated by emails, phone calls and visitors from the US presence at the UN, while emissaries have been dispatched from Washington to their capitals, armed with goodies for those who toe the line - and sanctions against those who do not.
The feverish efforts flow seemlessly from the American mathematics over the nine votes required to win the necessary majority, if a veto from one of the Permanent Five is not deployed. The votes from Britain, Spain and Bulgaria are assured. Russia and China, both with veto powers, are expected to abstain or vote against. France - which also has a veto - will almost certainly vote against, along with Syria.
All six have been reminded what the price for non-compliance may be. The precedent is that of Yemen, which had the audacity to vote, along with Cuba, against the last Gulf war. A $70 million US aid package was instantly cancelled.
It is abundantly clear that this time the threats are heavier. Two senior officials from the State Department - Kim Holmes and Marc Grossman - were sent last week to Mexico, where their pleading was described as 'hostile' by diplomats, who said Mexico would face a 'very heavy price' for doing anything but supporting the Americans.
Pakistan has also been the target of a lobbying blitz. For its support during the Afghan war, it was rewarded with the writing off of $1 billion of bilateral debt and a blind eye to its nuclear bomb programme, in addition to massive aid from the US and other nations.
The stick with which US diplomats are beating Chile is a free-trading arrangement desperately needed by the South Americans. The terms have been drawn up and are waiting to pass through both legislatures, in Washington and Santiago de Chile.
If America's southern neighbours have been feeling the heat, so have the three African nations on the Middle Six. The pressure on Angola started by telephone from the White House, with Bush and Cheney making personal appeals to President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
But it has not only been Americans who have been punching the phones. French officials have been working their own angles, though with fewer threats.
French diplomats claimed - perhaps optimistically - yesterday that the pro-inspection lobby among the 15 council members weighed in favour of giving the inspectors more time. Apart from China and Russia, France believes it has the support of Angola, Cameroon and Guinea in addition to the declared opponents of US policy, Germany and Syria.
For all the threats and cajoling, the issue which will weigh most heavily on this week's negotiations in the run-up to Blix's report will be Iraq's commencement of its destruction of its al-Samoud missiles yesterday. It is around this issue that the arguments will be most heated. France has already said that Iraq's decision to comply with a UN order to destroy missiles is proof that inspections are working, a view shared by the Russians.
In Washington and London, however, Iraq's decision to obey Blix's deadline to begin destruction - a deadline built up on both sides of the Atlantic as a 'key test' of cooperation - is discounted as yet 'another trick' by Saddam that both Bush and Blair had foreseen.
'The truth is that Iraq is still not complying,' said one Whitehall source. 'Resolution 1441 demands full, complete and immediate disclosure and disarmament, and that has not happened. The missiles are a distraction from this.'
To this end, Britain's ambassador to the UN, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, last week made an oral representation to members of the Security Council in closed session on Iraqi concealment of chemical and nerve agents, based on British intelligence. This week he will circulate a letter formally disclosing the same intelligence.
Washington and London will also make much of Blix's comments last week that Iraq's belated and patchy cooperation, mandated under resolution 1441, had 'been very limited so far'. It is this that the war party will seize on as the material breach that - new resolution or not - effectively authorises war under the existing resolution.
Which leaves the question of a Russian or a French veto. While in Washington and London officials have pooh-poohed the idea that Russia might really veto any resolution, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov apparently does not share the US view. Speaking to reporters in Beijing on Friday, he insisted that 'Russia has the right to veto' and 'will use it if it is necessary in the interests of international stability'.
In the end, however, even those most hostile to the US and Britain's search for a new resolution are deeply pessimistic that war can be avoided. What America wants, America will get, they believe. And there is the United States' most powerful threat of all: that it will damage not only national interests, but render the United Nations an irrelevance when confronted by the reality of US power.
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