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Clear U.N. Message to Iraq

November 09, 2002

The U.N. Security Council's 15-0 vote Friday to dispatch weapons inspectors to Iraq and give Saddam Hussein "a final opportunity" to disarm represented a triumph for diplomacy and a clear warning to Baghdad. The Bush administration accepted compromise to meet the concerns of its allies. France in particular raised objections but also listened to Washington. Iraq should understand that the Security Council resolution that emerged from the debate leaves it cornered; if Saddam Hussein wants to spare his country more devastation, he must open the door to the weapons inspectors.

As so often happens at the United Nations' headquarters, the debate was lengthy and the phrasing arcane. But eight weeks of negotiations, three draft resolutions and a final one-word change -- substituting the word "and" for "or" -- produced unanimity. A "no" vote or an abstention by any one of the 15 council members could have emboldened Iraq to believe that not all countries were exercised by its refusal to comply with previous U.N. resolutions demanding that it allow in weapons inspectors and reveal its weapons of mass destruction. Syria's "yes" vote even undercuts Iraqi claims that the U.S. is on an anti-Arab campaign.

France pressured the United States into agreeing that it will be the U.N. weapons inspectors, not Washington, who will decide whether Iraq has failed to comply with the resolution. The United States agreed that if such a failure occurred, the Security Council would debate possible action. Washington insisted that it retain the right to wage war against Iraq even without U.N. approval, but now the claim generates less foreboding.

The debate began with many nations as worried about the Bush administration's unilateralism as about Iraq. President Bush eased some concerns when he stopped emphasizing "regime change" in Baghdad and said the goal was Iraqi disarmament. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's main ally, said after the vote that Hussein's regime was "abhorrent" but could survive if it disarmed.

The final resolution is tough, as it must be in dealing with a nation that has twice invaded neighbors and has used chemical weapons against its own citizens. The U.N. document demands that Iraq grant inspectors unrestricted access to buildings, including presidential compounds, in their search for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Iraq might still refuse to admit inspectors, as it has since 1998. Even if the inspectors return, Iraq may keep insisting that it has no weapons of mass destruction. If it drops that pretense and identifies weapons development sites, months could be required to visit them all. The resolution is therefore only a step toward taming Iraq, but it confirms the United Nations' important role in keeping the peace or waging war.

Bush challenged the organization in a speech to the General Assembly Sept. 12 that launched the dialogue on Iraq. U.N. members listened to him; in return, the United States heeded their concerns during the weeks of negotiations. The outcome strengthens and validates international cooperation.

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