Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 2, Number 39 November 3 - 9, 2002 Quezon City, Philippines
Glenn Kessler and Walter Pincus
The intense debate in the United Nations Security Council over a resolution mandating new weapons inspections in Iraq has boiled down to a few phrases deep with meaning for diplomats. But the seven-week battle has masked a larger struggle over the projection and containment of U.S. power, diplomats and analysts said.
While officials reported some progress on a deal yesterday, narrowing differences between France and the United States on whether further consultations are necessary to trigger military action, the negotiations have done little to assuage fears abroad that the Bush administration is merely seeking an international imprimatur for war. In the past two years, the administration has rejected international agreements covering topics from global warming to war crimes, leaving allies deeply cynical about its motives in going to the United Nations now, according to U.N. diplomats.
"The whole debate is about two issues," said an envoy whose country is one of the five permanent Security Council members. "One is Iraq. The other is U.S. power in the world. The second issue is the bigger part of the debate."
The U.S. draft resolution calls for tougher inspections measures, granting unfettered access to U.N. arms experts throughout Iraq. It says Iraq is in "material breach" of its U.N. obligations to disarm and declares that any failure by Iraq to comply with the resolution "shall constitute a further material breach" -- a phrase previously invoked by Washington to justify military action. The resolution warns Baghdad of "serious consequences" if it continues to impede inspectors.
Hans Blix, the U.N.'s chief weapons inspector, is to meet separately today with Vice President Cheney and President Bush, officials said. A U.S. official described the meetings as part of discussions with Blix to make sure the administration understands how he intends to exercise his authority if inspections begin again in Iraq.
On Monday, Blix said he would have "great practical difficulties" in taking Iraqi scientists and their families out of Iraq for interviews -- a proposal mentioned by Bush in two speeches -- "unless there was cooperation by the Iraqi side." He also said Iraq could meet a U.S. proposed deadline for providing a list of its weapons within 30 days but probably could not provide an exhaustive account of its civilian chemical and biological programs that could be used for weapons.
Within the Security Council, diplomats said, there is increasing distrust on both sides. Many counterproposals made by the French and Russians -- who have objected strongly to the U.S. resolution -- have been to limit the U.S. ability to launch military action against Iraq without returning to the Security Council for authorization.
French President Jacques Chirac, at a recent gathering of French-speaking nations in Beirut, forcefully argued that war can only be used in self-defense or with the backing of the international community.
"In the modern world, the use of force should only be a last, and exceptional, resort," Chirac said. "It should only be allowed in the case of legitimate defense, or by decision of the competent international authorities. Whether we are talking about making Iraq adhere to its obligations, relaunching the Israeli-Palestinian peace process or solving conflicts in Africa, the same logic of legitimacy has to inspire all of us, because only this firmly guards us against temptations of adventure."
U.S. officials fear that, if Iraq fails to comply with the resolution, other nations will still be reluctant to authorize military action. As a result, they said, the administration has sought a resolution that would leave countries little choice but to accept an eventual military solution if Iraq fails to abide by any aspect of it.
"This is why words are so critical and important now," said Ivo H. Daalder, a Brookings Institution fellow who served on the National Security Council staff in the Clinton administration. "It is clear that some of our closest friends, like the French, don't trust us."
Administration officials have said the best way to prevent a war is to pass a strong resolution, but, as one put it, the French can't drop the notion that the United States is some sort of "cowboy hyperpower."
The Bush administration began its campaign for a new resolution at about the same time it unveiled its national security doctrine, which outlines the concept of preemptive action to counter perceived threats. The new doctrine unnerved even close allies, who feared that the world's only superpower no longer felt bound by the international rules established after World War II.
The French have tried to extract concessions from the United States so that the resulting resolution cannot be seen as a license for military action. But they don't want to push the United States so far that it abandons efforts to win a resolution, making the Security Council irrelevant.
A French official said yesterday it is necessary to craft a "very clear" resolution "with no ambiguity about what it means," to prevent member states from imposing their own interpretation on clauses. French officials are also wary about making a deal with the United States without making certain that Russia is comfortable with it.
The U.S. proposal envisioned a series of steps that the Iraqis must take in response to the resolution, including Baghdad's acceptance seven days after its adoption. Iraq's failure to abide by any of those steps might have triggered military action. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell noted yesterday that even if a negotiated resolution suggests Security Council action is needed to approve military force, the United States reserves the right to launch its own strike.
"I can't tell you now how long it might take them to consider such a report or what action they might take," Powell said. "But as their clock is ticking, there is a clock that is also ticking on the U.S. side as to whether or not the violation is of such a nature that the president makes a judgment in due course that he should act if the U.N. chooses not to act."
The key sticking point in the negotiations is the second reference to "material breach," which says the Security Council "decides" that any failure to comply by Iraq "shall constitute a further material breach." French officials say this could be a "hidden trigger" for military action, since it predisposes a decision by the Security Council before it has even met to consider the nature of Iraqi behavior.
Another section of the resolution says the council would meet to discuss any report by the weapons inspectors that Iraq was not complying with the resolution.
In his report to the Security Council Monday, Blix said he recognized that a "great responsibility" would be placed upon him. He said he would report "only significant results," a phrase that indicates if a gate or door in an inspected facility is locked or a temporary obstruction is met, that will not immediately be reported back to the Security Council as a potential breach.
When it does come to significant matters, he said, "We report. It is the Security Council and its members who decide" whether there would be peace or war.
Staff writer Colum Lunch at the United Nations contributed to this report.
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October 30, 2002 Bulatlat.com