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UN: Council Sends Mixed Message After Unanimous Vote On Iraq

  • Robert McMahon

United Nations Security Council members have hailed their unanimous vote on Iraq as sign of a new willingness to forge consensus to solve the country's problems after a period of bitter divisions. But just moments after the vote, a number of key members also stressed they could not contribute further to security or reconstruction costs in Iraq, one of the main goals of the United States and other resolution sponsors.

United Nations, 17 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The UN Security Council's latest vote on Iraq's future was unanimous, but council members have conveyed mixed messages about the extent of unity on the plan for Iraq's rehabilitation.

After six weeks of intense negotiations came a surprise 15-0 vote yesterday approving the U.S.-sponsored resolution seeking to expand international support for Iraq.

It marked a diplomatic victory for the United States, which resisted calls by France, Russia, and Germany to offer a timeline for restoring Iraqi sovereignty.

The resolution asks the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to provide the Security Council in the next two months with a schedule for drafting a constitution and holding elections. It also makes clear that the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq is temporary and that the Coalition Provisional Authority running the country will hand over power to Iraqis "as soon as practicable."

France, Russia, and Germany this week dropped their demands for a specific timeline, saying they wanted to preserve unity and had recognized efforts at compromise by the United States and other sponsors.

But ambassadors from the three countries said after yesterday's vote they had reservations preventing them from pledging peacekeeping troops or further funds to Iraq as requested by the resolution.

German ambassador Gunter Pleuger said his government would continue to press for an early handover of sovereignty to Iraqis: "In our opinion this resolution is certainly not the last word on Iraq. We will be faced with new developments in Iraq and most probably with new resolutions. What we want is that in the process of reconstructing Iraq, the Iraqi people get the message that they have the ownership of this process."

Pleuger addressed reporters jointly with French ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere and Russian ambassador Sergei Lavrov. They said their decision to withhold further aid was based on national considerations.

Lavrov said they were not discouraging other countries from making contributions to Iraq:

"[It] is, I believe, a mistake to say that if you don't send troops you shouldn't vote in favor [of the resolution]. It's a very simplistic approach. There are many operations sanctioned by the Security Council, authorized by the Security Council, where not every member participates. Afghanistan, for example, is something where Russia does not participate. Russia does not intend to send troops to Iraq and we have been saying this from the very beginning, but this doesn't mean that we should not be involved in other forms of supporting the process of restoration of Iraqi sovereignty," Lavrov said.

U.S. President George W. Bush thanked the council for its unanimous vote, saying it would contribute to peace and democracy in Iraq.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the resolution sends an important message ahead of next week's donor conference on Iraq in Madrid. He also said he did not expect any immediate troop pledges but that the resolution was designed to help countries justify contributions.

Powell joined other council members in saying the resolution marked a step toward reaching greater consensus on Iraq.

"We have been debating for the last several weeks as how best to create the peace -- not whether to go to war or not -- and how best to create a new government in Iraq that will be representative of its people and live in peace with its neighbors," Powell said. "I think we all now agree to that. Now, how to go about that, how to contribute to it, the transition of authority -- we will continue to have debates and discussions about that. But I think this resolution went a long way to bring us all together again so that these debates can continue in a very, very constructive manner."

James Dobbins served as U.S. special envoy in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan and now directs the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corporation.

He tells RFE/RL the unanimous vote was a major achievement for the Bush administration. But the administration, he says, will still need to work hard to find common cause on Iraq policy with council members who had opposed the U.S.-led war to oust Saddam Hussein.

"I don't think you're going to heal the breach between the United States and those countries that were most active in opposing the war overnight or in a single Security Council resolution. I think it's going to take a series of steps and a lot of behind-the-scenes diplomacy over a number of months before we can say that we and our traditional allies the Germans and French, and the Russians have a common vision of what we're trying to achieve ther," Dobbins said.

France and Germany are usually among the major donors to international causes but do not appear inclined to go beyond the $230 million the European Union has said it will contribute to Iraqi reconstruction next year.

UN and World Bank officials said earlier this week that at least $2,000 million has been pledged so far for the Madrid conference. They said most donors wish to contribute to a fund under their auspices and not under the control of the Coalition Provisional Authority.