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Iraq: Former U.S. Ambassador Discusses UN Resolutions On Baghdad's Actions

  • Ron Synovitz

U.S. President George W. Bush has called upon the United Nations to enforce its Security Council resolutions on Iraq. But he has also said that Washington will take action if the UN does not. RFE/RL discusses the UN resolutions with David Newton, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 1984 to 1988 who now directs Radio Free Iraq.

Prague, 16 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- RFE/RL: Let's start by reviewing the history of the existing resolutions on Iraq passed by the United Nations Security Council since Baghdad ordered its invasion of Kuwait in August of 1990.

Newton: "Let me talk about the critical ones. They started right with the invasion of Kuwait with Resolution 660 when the Security Council invoked Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, [which classified the Iraqi invasion as] a breach of the peace or an act of aggression, and demanded that [Iraq] return [its forces] immediately to [within] its borders. This didn't happen, so four days later, [the Security Council] increased the pressure by invoking economic sanctions."

RFE/RL: What happened as a result of Baghdad's response, or lack of response, to these initial resolutions?

Newton: "This went on for about 3 1/2 months. Iraq ignored the resolutions. It even incorporated Kuwait into Iraq. So finally, on 29 November [1990], the Security Council took the ultimate step [under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter], which was to authorize the use of force, what it called 'all necessary means,' and declared Iraq to be in flagrant violation of the [UN} Charter and of the UN resolutions. So then we had the [Gulf] War."

RFE/RL: Could you explain the resolution under which Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime had agreed to allow weapons UN inspectors into the country as part of a Gulf War cease-fire deal?

Newton: "After the war, there was another resolution demanding the release of civilians, prisoners of war, and others, and of Kuwaiti property. This also was tied to the original resolution invoking Chapter 7. Then, right after that, on 3 April [1991], [there was] the key Resolution 687 required various things from Iraq. [It involved] agreeing to the border, allowing a UN team in, but mainly, it agreed to the destruction of all weapons of mass destruction and foreswore ever using them again. [Resolution 687] required, then, Iraq to accept all of these conditions. And once they did [agree to accept those conditions], the UN declared a cease-fire."

RFE/RL: No-fly zones were established later to prevent Iraqi air power from being used for attacks against civilians in parts of northern and southern Iraq. The no-fly zones were put in place after it became apparent that Saddam Hussein's forces were attacking Iraqi civilians from minority groups that posed a domestic political threat to his regime. But Iraq refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the no-fly zones. Can you explain the legal justification for the no-fly zones?

Newton: "Subsequent to that [cease-fire deal], one more resolution two days later, Resolution 688, demanded an end to the repression of Iraq's civilian population, particularly, the Kurds. That resolution was not tied to the use of force. But this resolution is the basis on which originally the U.S., the British, and the French maintained the no-fly zones [over northern and southern Iraq]. The French subsequently pulled out. So now it's just the U.S. and the British."

RFE/RL: What is your view about U.S. President George W. Bush's speech to the UN General Assembly [on 12 September] in which he told the UN either to enforce the Security Council resolutions on Iraq or become irrelevant?

Newton: "When we look at the president's speech, we see that he didn't just ask for the return of the inspectors. He said that all other resolutions must be complied with, including the return of Kuwaiti prisoners, Kuwaiti property, an end to violations of the sanctions by the smuggling route by Iraq. So this is a very stiff requirement for the Iraqis."

RFE/RL: Do you expect the United States to launch military strikes against Iraq unilaterally, as President Bush has suggested, if the UN Security Council refuses to issue a new resolution authorizing the use of force?

Newton: "It is very clear to people, I think, that if the U.S. can't get a resolution authorizing the use of force, it reserves the option of going on its own and using force."

RFE/RL: France has proposed two new resolutions: the first setting a timeline for Baghdad to comply with the existing resolutions and a possible second resolution later authorizing the use of force if Saddam Hussein continues to refuse to comply with his obligations. There have been conflicting signals from Washington on that idea with Secretary of State Colin Powell saying that all options remain open. How do you view the French proposal for two new resolutions?

Newton: "The preferred route seems to be to get it all in one resolution: to tell Iraq it must comply with all of these resolutions it has violated; secondly, to set a deadline for compliance; and third, then, to specify what will be done. In other words, again, to invoke Chapter 7 and the use of force to enforce the resolutions."

RFE/RL: What has been the impact of President Bush's threat to take action with or without a new resolution?

Newton: "It increases the pressure on the [Security] Council, particularly since President Bush has upped the ante by saying the credibility of the United Nations is at stake, just like the League of Nations' credibility was at stake over Ethiopia [during the 1930s]. Is it in their interest to see the United States go ahead unilaterally? That would certainly weaken the United Nations. And most countries in the United Nations don't want to see that happen."

RFE/RL:: Is Bush's threat enough to get Saddam Hussein to comply with the obligations of the Gulf War cease-fire and other UN resolutions?

Newton: "There is another issue here. And that is the end game. The British foreign secretary [Jack Straw] has said that there must be a resolution with a very tight deadline. If the Iraqis don't accept bringing the inspectors back and complying, then it looks like the regime will have to go. The U.S. policy has been that the regime will have to go in any case. And of course, the dilemma then for Iraq is that if they feel that the United States, in some fashion, through the UN or independently, is going to attack them, why would they want to disarm and give up their weapons of mass destruction ahead of time?"

RFE/RL: You mentioned Chapter 7 of the UN Charter earlier. Could you explain that provision in more detail?

Newton: "There are two provisions in the United Nations Charter to deal with problems. One is Chapter 6, which is the peaceful settlement of disputes. And then there is Chapter 7, when the United Nations actually declares an act of aggression or a threat to the peace [has taken place] and can then authorize enforcement measures, short of war, and then even war, to correct [the problem]."

RFE/RL: There are many complaints in the Arab world about a perceived double standard on the part of the United States because Israel also has failed to honor its obligations under UN resolutions for decades. Of course, the UN resolutions on Israel do not invoke the mandatory-compliance clauses under Chapter 7. How do you respond to this criticism of a double standard, which was raised as recently as this weekend by current UN Security Council member Yemen?

Newton: "In this case, Resolution 242 in November 1967 set out the principles of a settlement. The two principles were the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force and then the right of all states in the area to live in peace and security. The question with regard to the Palestinians and Israel is that so many actions have been carried out by Israel in the occupied territories since 1967 that it is very difficult to go back to the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force."