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Diplomatic Strain on Iraq:

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By Julia Preston

New York Times
December 22, 2002

By asserting that Iraq's arms declaration put it once again in material breach of United Nations resolutions, the United States added to the stash of violations it can use to make its case before the Security Council when Washington is ready to go to war against Iraq.


Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's charge against Iraq on Thursday was reinforced in the eyes of Council nations by the similarities between the Bush administration's view of the Iraqi arms documents and the bluntly critical assessment by Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief United Nations weapons inspectors.

But the American contention that Iraq's lapses amounted to the most serious form of defiance put it far out ahead of the other Council nations, including Britain, its closest ally.

While it appears that the Council will generally agree about the failings of the declaration, Washington's move strained the united front that the Council has presented to Iraq since it unanimously adopted Resolution 1441, the measure of Nov. 8 that started the inspections.

After the weapons inspectors' briefing on Thursday, Russia argued that the Bush administration was out of line in unilaterally saying that there had been a "material breach." The Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Sergey Lavrov, insisted that only the Council as a whole was entitled to make such a judgment, and only on the basis of reports from the weapons inspectors, not intelligence from national governments.

"The work of the inspectors is at a very early stage," Mr. Lavrov said, barely concealing his aggravation. He demanded again that the Bush administration come forward with hard intelligence to prove that President Saddam Hussein of Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction.

"To say, `We know, but we wouldn't tell you,' is not something that is persuasive, frankly speaking," Mr. Lavrov said. "This is not a poker game, when you hold your cards and call others' bluff."

France, an American ally that negotiated stubbornly so Resolution 1441 would include no terms that could automatically be a trigger for war, was openly critical of the Iraqi declaration, saying, "It does not remove the doubts" about Baghdad.

But the French ambassador, Jean-Marc de la Sablií¨re, also maintained that only the whole Council could make the grave charge that Iraq was in further breach of United Nations resolutions. Even Britain did not second the statement by the United States ambassador, John D. Negroponte, that Iraq had committed "material omissions that in our view constitute another material breach."

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador, stuck to the word of honor he had given to France, Russia and China, three other permanent members, that Britain would not find Iraq guilty without an obvious pattern of flagrant noncooperation.

Not the least of the reasons why Washington's charge of a "material breach" seemed premature was that most of the 10 nonpermanent Council nations had barely had time to read the cover sheets of the 12,000-page Iraqi tome. The rotating nations only got their filtered copies late Tuesday.

Mr. Powell's forceful statement was the result of a reversal of roles in the continuing argument between the State Department and the Pentagon over Iraq policy, a senior administration official said Friday. Mr. Powell, normally more willing to moderate the pace of confrontation with Baghdad to consider the views of other Council nations, declared a breach immediately. Pentagon officials were reluctant, the official said, because they said the statement could be seen as tantamount to a declaration of war.

"It's not necessarily casus belli right away," the official said, summarizing Mr. Powell's argument. "Just because there's a material breach doesn't mean you bomb them the next day."

But many Council nations were uneasy - although not surprised - that the Bush administration was driving the events faster than they wanted to go.

In fact, the Council consensus was already showing wear and tear. Syria, which shares a border with Iraq and is the only Arab nation on the Council, was infuriated by the United States maneuver two weekends ago to obtain uncensored copies of the Iraqi declaration for the five permanent members, excluding the nonpermanent group.

Syria returned its copy of the declaration to the United Nations and refused to join the discussions.

Even more diplomats were irritated when Mr. Negroponte tried to restate events after the fact. American envoys said that the United States had made it clear that it would not agree to relinquish its chance to see the Iraqi data immediately.

But a half dozen diplomats and United Nations officials who attended an important closed meeting of the Council on Dec. 6 at which the distribution of the declaration was discussed said they had heard no objections from James B. Cunningham, the American deputy ambassador who attended the session, to an agreement by the rest to turn the documents over for filtering directly to Mr. Blix and Mr. ElBaradei.

After several Council nations vented their discontent at a luncheon with Secretary General Kofi Annan, he said publicly that the method of distribution of the documents had been "unfortunate." American diplomats complained to the United Nations about Mr. Annan's remarks, further antagonizing Council diplomats.

Although Bush administration officials have said they are ready to provide more direct support to the weapons inspectors, the dissension on the Council complicates matters for Mr. Blix and Mr. ElBaradei as they struggle to decipher Iraq's weapons programs with little hard information from Iraq to work with.

But after Iraq has made an arms declaration that has been judged to be flawed, the burden of proof in the inspections now falls even more heavily on the officials in Baghdad.

"Because of Iraq's patchy record of cooperation, they need to have a 100 percent proactive posture in coming up with evidence to exonerate themselves," Mr. ElBaradei said in an interview. "The less clarification they provide, the less certainty with which we can report to the Security Council." He added, "Without a credible or high degree of certainty, I do not see the Security Council exonerating Iraq."


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FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.