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UN: Competing Initiatives Highlight Divisions On Security Council Over Iraq

  • Robert McMahon

The leading powers on the United Nations Security Council have offered sharply different proposals for dealing with the Iraq crisis in what looks to be the start of the final phase of diplomacy to avert a war. The United States, Britain, and Spain have proposed a resolution declaring that Iraq has missed its "final" opportunity to disarm peacefully and that the council should consider authorizing force. But a paper prepared by France, with the backing of Germany and Russia, says Iraqi cooperation is improving and that pressure should be exerted through intensified inspections.

United Nations, 25 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Two competing diplomatic initiatives have been presented to the United Nations Security Council to resolve the Iraq crisis, highlighting the sharp differences over whether the council should be considering a threat of war.

The United States, Britain, and Spain jointly sponsored yesterday a draft resolution saying Iraq has failed to take the "final opportunity" to disarm peacefully as set out under a November resolution. It says Iraq poses a threat to international peace and security and cites the authority of the council to act under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which empowers the use of force. The draft resolution contains no deadline, but U.S. and British officials say a decision on it should be reached by the middle of next month.

In presenting the draft, British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock told the council that UN inspectors have been unable to resolve a single issue of substance in the past 15 weeks. He cited questions raised by UN inspectors, such as the status of 8,500 liters of anthrax, 1.5 tons of VX nerve agent, and 6,500 chemical bombs. He told reporters after the meeting that the sponsors have not ruled out amendments to the draft, but calls for further inspections, he said, would not bring about Iraq's full disarmament. "What has got to electrify the atmosphere for change is a complete change of attitude by Iraq, and if that does not happen, then we're not going to get anywhere with any alternatives," Greenstock said.

The tough language in the draft contrasted with the memorandum circulated in the council yesterday by France, Germany, and Russia. They said the council's priority should still be the peaceful disarmament of Iraq. The paper, backed by China, called for intensified monitoring and a series of new deadlines that could extend inspections until July. The sponsors of the memorandum say there is no need for a new resolution, only a reinforcement of inspections as allowed under November's Resolution 1441. The paper says the best way to exert pressure on Iraq is through a combination of elements: laying out a program of action, reinforced inspections, a clear time line, and a military buildup.

Russia's UN ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, told reporters there was still an opportunity to disarm Iraq without resorting to force. "We don't think that the chance for the peaceful disarmament of Iraq has been lost or has been missed. We are convinced, on the contrary, that inspections are proceeding effectively and that Iraq is responding to the demands of international community and the pressure exerted on it," Lavrov said.

Adoption of the draft resolution requires nine votes and no veto from any of the council's five permanent members, including France, Russia, and China. A majority of the 15 council members have so far supported the call for continuing inspections. In addition to Britain and Spain, the U.S. position is supported on the council by Bulgaria. Five other non-permanent members of the council -- Angola, Guinea, Cameroon, Chile, and Mexico -- are expected to face intense diplomatic pressure from Washington in the coming days to support the resolution.

The memorandum says the inspectors should be asked to submit a report by 1 March outlining the substantive tasks for Iraq to accomplish the disarmament of its nuclear, chemical, biological, and ballistic-missile programs. It cites a provision in a 1999 resolution -- Resolution 1284 -- that created the new UN inspection mission, which provides for inspectors to assess progress in disarmament tasks 120 days after the first report is issued. That would stretch inspections to 1 July.

France's ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, told reporters that while full cooperation from Iraq is still lacking, the 1999 resolution provides a time line to measure progress. "The inspections are giving some results. We must have a time line, and this time line is given by a resolution [1284], by the Security Council, and there is no reason to change it. There is no reason to decide that now there is a date limit," de La Sabliere said.

But Britain's Greenstock and U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said Iraq had failed the two main tests set by Resolution 1441. They said Iraq's weapons declaration was inadequate and its cooperation nonexistent. Negroponte, in comments to reporters, was dismissive of the memorandum presented today. "I would, by way of comment on the French-Russian-German proposal, say that as far as we're concerned, this is much more process than substance. We don't see it as contributing to the disarmament of Iraq, and we view that paper with deep skepticism," Negroponte said.

Both the resolution and the memorandum appealed for the council to present a unified front on the issue, but that appeared to be a far-off prospect. China's UN ambassador, Wang Yingfan, told reporters after the meeting that he expressed China's support for the French proposal. But he also said he believed the council members can overcome their differences. "I still find some common ground like implementation of [Resolution] 1441, [the] disarmament issue in Iraq. So, it's not a totally hopeless situation. I still hope we could work together, all the council members," Wang said.

The council is to discuss the resolution again on 27 February. Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix is expected to deliver another progress report on inspections to the council next week.

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