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U.N. Resists Tying Iraq to New Terror Attacks

Australia may be more willing to send troops against Hussein, but the Security Council continues its focus on language of resolution.

October 15, 2002|Tyler Marshall | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — A renewed wave of terrorism in the Middle East and Asia seems unlikely to harden sentiment against Saddam Hussein within the Security Council as the United States struggles to win French and Russian support for a tough resolution against Iraq, diplomats and political observers said Monday.

However, there were signs that recent attacks could make it politically easier -- at least in one instance -- for a leader to join the United States in an attack on Iraq. In Australia, where public backing for joining a U.S.-led coalition against Hussein was finely balanced, widespread outrage at the Bali bombing was expected to swing the country behind Prime Minister John Howard's desire to commit troops, analysts said.

"It will dissolve some of the doubts people here have had about supporting the U.S. [militarily] in Iraq," said Michael McKinley, a specialist on war and diplomacy at the Australian National University in Canberra. "There may not be evidence linking Saddam with Al Qaeda, but the Bali attack is being presented as an attack against the Australian people, so it's psychologically very powerful."

A large number of the dead in the Bali explosion were Australians.

Australia is believed to be offering a group of its elite Special Air Service force -- units roughly equivalent to U.S. Special Forces -- for possible deployment to Iraq. About 150 to 200 of these troops are working with U.S. and other Western military units in Afghanistan.

The Security Council took barely 90 minutes Monday to meet, debate and pass a resolution condemning the Bali attack and urging nations to cooperate with Indonesia in the investigation. The council expressed its "reinforced determination to combat all forms of terrorism."

The resolution made no reference to Iraq, and there was little sign of movement toward agreement on how to confront Hussein.

In Europe, there was little immediate indication that either public opinion or governments were linking recent attacks to the confrontation with Iraq, even though the Bali bombing left scores of Europeans dead. Terrorism is also suspected in an explosion on a French oil tanker in Yemen this month.

In Britain, both Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw avoided any mention of Hussein in public remarks Monday on the Bali bombing.

"The response of ourselves and the whole of our partners in the international community has got to be one of total vigilance and total determination to take whatever measures are necessary, nationally and internationally, to deal with this, and that is what we will do," Blair said.

Observers said that Monday was a day for expressing sympathy and outrage over the deaths of at least 33 Britons in Bali, rather than building support for a confrontation with Iraq. Although Britain has been the strongest supporter of America's stance against Iraq, Blair has faced considerable opposition within the ranks of his own Labor party.

It is unclear how the upsurge in terrorist activity will affect either public opinion or the political climate in Britain.

Jonathan Stevenson, editor of the Strategic Survey, a monthly bulletin published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said the Bali bombing could reinforce advocates of a tough stand against Hussein, who argue that such attacks would be far worse if carried out with a weapon of mass destruction.

He added, however, that there was an equally compelling counter-argument from those convinced that there is no connection between Hussein and Al Qaeda.

"They will argue that when all the damage is being done by terrorist organizations to civilian targets, why are we worrying about Saddam?" he said.

In Germany, both Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer issued statements expressing shock at the Bali attack. They offered assistance in the criminal investigation, but Fischer also underscored that the attackers were still unknown.

"We can't make that link [between Hussein and Al Qaeda] at the moment," said Oliver Schramm, press spokesman for the German Embassy in Washington. "We can't rule it out, but at present no one [in the German government] is speculating about such a connection."

The absence of any immediate pressure from national capitals means that as they struggle to agree about wording of a resolution on Iraq, most members of the 15-nation Security Council remain driven by two main goals, neither terror-related:

* Agreeing on an unyielding, clear-cut set of rules that gives U.N. weapons inspectors the power to conduct unconditional, unfettered searches for Hussein's suspected chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, with a goal of eliminating all weapons of mass destruction;

* Forcing Hussein to end a dozen years of defying the Security Council's will, as expressed in no less than 16 resolutions.

"The issue of terrorism should be kept separate," said a diplomat from a council member country.

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