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[casi] Observer: America the arm-twister



http://www.observer.co.uk/iraq/story/0,12239,905755,00.html

America the arm-twister

In the conflict over a second resolution that could trigger a war, the
'Middle Six' nations on the UN Security Council face a barrage of
bribes, persuasion and blatant threats

Ed Vulliamy in New York, Peter Beaumont in London, Nick Paton Walsh in
Moscow and Paul Webster in Paris
Sunday March 2, 2003
The Observer

Samoud is a word with a special meaning in Arabic. In recent weeks it
has come to international attention as the name of Saddam Hussein's
proscribed missile system, synonymous with the white, finned tubes thick
as tree trunks which Hans Blix, the UN's chief weapons inspector, has
ordered for destruction.

But in the Arab world it has another resonance; 'to be steadfast'. In
truth, however, it means something more. Particularly in the context of
the Palestinian struggle, samoud is understood as a form of existential
resistance, an absolute refusal to give in even when faced with
occupation by one's enemies, a quality invoked by Saddam in his
struggles with the US and its allies.

This 'steadfastness' of the strong has turned negotiations for a new
resolution to authorise war against Iraq into a colossal contest between
America, Britain and Spain, who believe that war is inevitable, and
France, Russia and Germany, who are seeking to avoid it. The prize is
the very future of the UN and the shape of international relations.

All sides in what is set to be one of the most bruising encounters on
the Security Council in a generation have set out their positions, as
America and its allies try to secure a resolution authorising war for
what they say is Iraq's non-compliance with resolution 1441. Next Friday
that battle will come to a head when the council meets to hear what is
likely to be the last report by Blix. Then the US and Britain will push
for a vote on their new resolution to declare Iraq in material breach
and authorise war.

Tony Blair made it clear this weekend that he will not back down and
that he is, perhaps, more hawkish than George Bush. For his part, Bush
has reaffirmed that only the total disarmament of Iraq and the removal
of Saddam will lift the prospect of war, a combination so unlikely that
war is virtually guaranteed.

On the anti-war side, positions appear to be hardening by an equal
measure. Russia has let it be known in private - if not in public -
briefings that it might exercise its veto, following similar warnings
from the French.

Torn between the two sides on the Security Council are the so-called
Middle Six - Angola, Cameroon, Guinea, Chile, Mexico and Pakistan -
whose support or otherwise is likely to characterise how the world,
particularly the Islamic world, reacts to any US-led war.

The fight over the Middle Six has been characterised by threats,
cajoling, US spying on their missions and blatant bribes. Seasoned
diplomats have looked on in awe or felt the heat as America mounted its
offensive to browbeat the nations it needs for a Security Council
majority clearing the path to war.

When White House spokesman Ari Fleischer denied strong-arm tactics by
the US diplomatic service, correspondents to whom he was talking on
Thursday laughed and he left the briefing room.

Meanwhile, the people for whom Fleischer speaks - Bush and
Vice-President Dick Cheney - have been picking off countries one by one,
with a mixture of courtship and threats, each tailored to match that
nation's dependence on the US and the leverage of American power.

The missions of the Middle Six, on New York's Upper East Side, have been
inundated by emails, phone calls and visitors from the US presence at
the UN, while emissaries have been dispatched from Washington to their
capitals, armed with goodies for those who toe the line - and sanctions
against those who do not.

The feverish efforts flow seemlessly from the American mathematics over
the nine votes required to win the necessary majority, if a veto from
one of the Permanent Five is not deployed. The votes from Britain, Spain
and Bulgaria are assured. Russia and China, both with veto powers, are
expected to abstain or vote against. France - which also has a veto -
will almost certainly vote against, along with Syria.

All six have been reminded what the price for non-compliance may be. The
precedent is that of Yemen, which had the audacity to vote, along with
Cuba, against the last Gulf war. A $70 million US aid package was
instantly cancelled.

It is abundantly clear that this time the threats are heavier. Two
senior officials from the State Department - Kim Holmes and Marc
Grossman - were sent last week to Mexico, where their pleading was
described as 'hostile' by diplomats, who said Mexico would face a 'very
heavy price' for doing anything but supporting the Americans.

Pakistan has also been the target of a lobbying blitz. For its support
during the Afghan war, it was rewarded with the writing off of $1
billion of bilateral debt and a blind eye to its nuclear bomb programme,
in addition to massive aid from the US and other nations.

The stick with which US diplomats are beating Chile is a free-trading
arrangement desperately needed by the South Americans. The terms have
been drawn up and are waiting to pass through both legislatures, in
Washington and Santiago de Chile.

If America's southern neighbours have been feeling the heat, so have the
three African nations on the Middle Six. The pressure on Angola started
by telephone from the White House, with Bush and Cheney making personal
appeals to President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

But it has not only been Americans who have been punching the phones.
French officials have been working their own angles, though with fewer
threats.

French diplomats claimed - perhaps optimistically - yesterday that the
pro-inspection lobby among the 15 council members weighed in favour of
giving the inspectors more time. Apart from China and Russia, France
believes it has the support of Angola, Cameroon and Guinea in addition
to the declared opponents of US policy, Germany and Syria.

For all the threats and cajoling, the issue which will weigh most
heavily on this week's negotiations in the run-up to Blix's report will
be Iraq's commencement of its destruction of its al-Samoud missiles
yesterday. It is around this issue that the arguments will be most
heated. France has already said that Iraq's decision to comply with a UN
order to destroy missiles is proof that inspections are working, a view
shared by the Russians.

In Washington and London, however, Iraq's decision to obey Blix's
deadline to begin destruction - a deadline built up on both sides of the
Atlantic as a 'key test' of cooperation - is discounted as yet 'another
trick' by Saddam that both Bush and Blair had foreseen.

'The truth is that Iraq is still not complying,' said one Whitehall
source. 'Resolution 1441 demands full, complete and immediate disclosure
and disarmament, and that has not happened. The missiles are a
distraction from this.'

To this end, Britain's ambassador to the UN, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, last
week made an oral representation to members of the Security Council in
closed session on Iraqi concealment of chemical and nerve agents, based
on British intelligence. This week he will circulate a letter formally
disclosing the same intelligence.

Washington and London will also make much of Blix's comments last week
that Iraq's belated and patchy cooperation, mandated under resolution
1441, had 'been very limited so far'. It is this that the war party will
seize on as the material breach that - new resolution or not -
effectively authorises war under the existing resolution.

Which leaves the question of a Russian or a French veto. While in
Washington and London officials have pooh-poohed the idea that Russia
might really veto any resolution, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov
apparently does not share the US view. Speaking to reporters in Beijing
on Friday, he insisted that 'Russia has the right to veto' and 'will use
it if it is necessary in the interests of international stability'.

In the end, however, even those most hostile to the US and Britain's
search for a new resolution are deeply pessimistic that war can be
avoided. What America wants, America will get, they believe. And there
is the United States' most powerful threat of all: that it will damage
not only national interests, but render the United Nations an
irrelevance when confronted by the reality of US power.


Guardian Unlimited  Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003

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