YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The World

Mauritius' Envoy to U.N. Gets the Boot for Not Toeing the Line

Ambassador is recalled for not conveying his government's pro-U.S. stance in the Security Council debate over how to disarm Iraq.

November 06, 2002|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS -- Missing: one soft-spoken, full-bearded Mauritian ambassador with independent views. Last seen leaving a Security Council meeting without throwing his full support behind the U.S. resolution on Iraq. May have run afoul of perceived American economic pressures in the diplomatic arena.

Mauritius recalled its U.N. ambassador, Jagdish Koonjul, on Friday for not accurately conveying his government's pro-American stance in the Security Council debate over how to disarm Iraq, a senior official from the Indian Ocean island nation said this week.

The White House was so concerned that Mauritius was not squarely behind Washington on the resolution that it recently sent a formal warning to the capital. Mauritius' response was swift and clear -- Koonjul didn't show up for his Friday meetings at the U.N. because he was packing to go home.

"We support the United States," said Foreign Minister Anil Gayan -- just as the U.S. had supported Mauritius' bid to become a rotating council member. "Our position is not neutral."

For both Mauritius and the U.S., more than diplomatic harmony is at stake. Mauritius' concern over solidarity with the U.S. may well have an economic subtext. Some Mauritian officials fear that Koonjul's equivocal stance on the resolution could cost them access to the U.S. market under a recent trade program that explicitly requires support of American foreign policy.

The 2000 African Growth and Opportunity Act, which provides trade benefits to 34 sub-Saharan countries, stipulates that recipients must not "engage in activities that undermine United States national security or foreign policy interests." The program, a Clinton administration initiative, illustrates a growing trend of linking economic issues with Washington's foreign policy objectives.

"The new American trade agenda serves U.S. security interests," U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick wrote in Monday's Wall Street Journal. "Ultimately, free trade is about freedom. This value is at the heart of our larger reform and development agenda."

Trade expert Jagdish Bhagwati, a professor at Columbia University, said that although Washington is increasingly using trade for noneconomic purposes such as improving labor standards and pushing for democracy, the demand for political support is usually not so explicit.

"It's a rather naked exercise of political linkage," he said. "It's like baksheesh diplomacy. We're telling trade partners, 'We will let you have market access provided you do the following.' "

Mauritius, an island off the east coast of Africa, isn't the only Security Council member subject to the political requirements. Council members Cameroon and Guinea also receive trade benefits under the same act, putting these three Francophone nations in the cross-fire of French and U.S. lobbying efforts at the U.N.

The United States has formally presented a draft resolution calling for "severe consequences" if Iraq fails to cooperate with weapons inspectors. France, Russia and others are trying to ensure that any eventual resolution not automatically authorize the U.S. and partners to use force against Iraq without council approval.

Nearly two months of talks have put intense pressure on all 15 Security Council members, but the U.S. is hoping that a refined draft to be presented today will win wide agreement.

Diplomats from Cameroon say that their oil sector and their desire for trade give them common interests with France and the U.S. and that they hope a compromise resolution will mean that they don't have to choose.

"We are friends with the U.S., we are friends with France," said Blaise Banoum, a counselor at Cameroon's mission to the U.N. "But we are thinking about the resolution -- we are not thinking about friendship. We think that the positions are coming closer, and by the end, the resolution will be one supported by the maximum number of the members."

Mauritian Ambassador Koonjul has been carefully noncommittal at the U.N. -- so much so that at one point, France and the United States both counted Mauritius as supporting the other side. Although that stance elevated Mauritius' status as a key swing vote in the council, it didn't go down well at home.

"Our position on this issue is very clear," Gayan, the foreign minister, said in a telephone interview Monday with The Times. "If there is consensus, we will go along. If there is no consensus, we will support the United States and United Kingdom. The ambassador has been recalled for not following strictly the instructions that were given him."

Using aid as both incentive and arm-twister isn't a new approach. During the 1990 Security Council vote authorizing the Persian Gulf War, Washington offered nearly every developing country on the council economic aid packages -- and cut Yemen's $70-million foreign aid package after that country cast a no vote. But the economic aspect to negotiations over this resolution is more overt than ever.

"There's so much at stake for the administration on this that they will use every lever possible," a U.S. State Department official said.


Times staff writer Doyle McManus in Washington contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times Articles