Washington, 5 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- The United States, declaring "mission accomplished," appears to be winding down military activity against Iraq. But on the international scene, diplomatic controversy continues with more tough talk from Moscow and growing questions about the cohesiveness of the Western coalition.
A tired-looking President Bill Clinton made a brief appearance before reporters yesterday to declare that "our mission has been achieved."
Clinton said Iraq's strategic forces are worse off now than before U.S. missile strikes on air defense facilities in southern Iraq Tuesday and Wednesday.
He said the targets were damaged or destroyed and the United States thus has shown Iraq's president Saddam Hussein it will take action if "Saddam Hussein violates the United Nations prohibitions on either threatening his neighbors or repressing his own people."
However, several countries that supported the United States in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, including Russia, vociferously dispute America's rationale or remain conspicuously silent.
Asked about the comparative lack of approval, Clinton said he has received good support from America's allies.
"Things are on track and I feel good about it," he said.
Clinton maintained his own diplomatic silence about Russian president Boris Yeltsin's position, who, according to his chief of staff Anatoly Chubais, views the U.S. action as "very dangerous" and "impermissible."
In Bonn, visiting Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeniy Primakov said Wednesday that the United States exceeded the terms of a United Nations resolution when it decided to expand a "no-fly" zone from the 32nd parallel to the 33rd parallel up to the southern suburbs of Baghdad.
Primakov's charge was rejected at the U.S. State Department by spokesman Glyn Davies, who said the U.S. attack was justified by more than one U.N. resolution. He said the U.N. documents state unequivocally that Kurds in northern Iraq must not be oppressed.
"That's what Saddam Hussein did and that's what led to our action," Davies said.
He added that extending the "no-fly" zone is a matter for the countries that police it -- Britain, France and the United States.
Their authority, Davies said, derives from the U.N. resolution establishing "no-fly" zones in 1991 after the Persian Gulf War to prevent Saddam Hussein from further aggression against his neighbors.
Britain has made strong statements of support for the United States, which were repeated in Washington Wednesday by visiting British Defense Minister Michael Portillo. The United States also received solid endorsements from Japan, Canada, Germany and NATO.
But the European Union in Brussels postponed a statement of support largely because of France, which has distanced itself from the strikes. French officials say they did not agree in advance to the extension.
With the understandable exception of Kuwait, many Arab leaders also have been critical.
As for Russia, Davies said the United States had "constant, round-the-clock consultations" with Moscow before the missile strikes.
"We will continue to discuss with the Russians the actions that we have taken," he said.
Davies made clear this is a post-factum courtesy, adding "but the action has been taken, the no-fly zone has been extended, and we will in our diplomatic dialogue with the Russians continue to answer their questions."
The tepid international reaction to this week's strike has drawn critical comparisons in the United States with the 1991 "Desert Storm" operation to drive Saddam Hussein back from his occupation of neighboring Kuwait.
In 1990, then president George Bush united major Arab countries with Israel and much of Europe and Asia in a coalition that even included the Soviet Union.
Some politicians date the end of the Cold War to August 1990, when Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker stood together at Moscow's Vnukovo airport to condemn Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in a joint statement.
Later in 1991, the Soviet Union voted with the United States on some of the resolutions Russia now says are being misinterpreted by the United States.
In sharp contrast to 1991, Primakov said Wednesday that Russia will veto a proposed U.N. resolution condemning Iraq for its incursion into the northern Kurdish zone.