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U.S., France Divided Over U.N. Resolution on Iraq

Washington turns up the heat on Paris as a diplomatic chasm reflects their disparate approaches on how to deal with Baghdad.

October 16, 2002|Robin Wright, Tyler Marshall and Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON -- The United States and Britain plotted strategy Tuesday for a new offensive on Iraq -- this time against recalcitrant France, the key opponent to a single tough U.N. resolution threatening the use of force unless Iraqi President Saddam Hussein bends to the will of the world body.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw huddled in Washington to discuss possible compromises to break the monthlong impasse that has led to the emergence of France as the dealmaker, or deal breaker, in determining how the world deals with Baghdad.

The diplomatic chasm reflects the disparate approaches to the problem of Iraq. It also portends tough times for the Bush administration, and not just on this long-sought resolution.

As it tries to mobilize world support, Washington views its position in terms of the practical challenges in an era of constant terrorist threats. U.S. officials rail against the hard realities of Iraq's past record and future potential. They warn that the dangers mean dealing not only with Baghdad's alleged weapons of mass destruction but also with its leadership.

In yet another reflection of Washington's goals, Undersecretary of State John Bolton on Tuesday called daringly for the "de-Nazification" of Iraq.

In stark contrast, the French have been opining about the historic stakes at play in Iraq, the lofty principles of global collective security in the post-Cold War world and the fate of the U.N. Charter in the 21st century.

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin called on the United States this week to "remain faithful to the vision of collective security that rests on the law." In a speech to the Institute for National Defense Studies in Paris, he also warned Washington not to be tempted by the "solitude of power."

Ironically, French officials are even talking about the imperiled "new world order," a term coined by the first Bush administration and often used to describe the importance of standing up to Hussein after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

So far, the French seem to be scoring more points.

France has the backing, in varying degrees, of the larger bloc among the 15 countries on the U.N. Security Council. A resolution requires nine votes to pass and no vetoes from the five permanent members -- the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France.

At this point, the French have the backing of seven other countries, including two other permanent members, to block the U.S. goal of one resolution that lays out not only what Hussein must do to comply but the consequences of his failure to act.

In contrast, the United States has six votes and a wobbly seventh, according to U.N. diplomatic calculations.

Unlike the days of the Cold War, the divide is neither East-West nor ideological; Russia and China are siding with France.

Powell acknowledged to reporters Tuesday that the diplomatic maneuvering on a new Iraq resolution is "intense." But he said he was still "hopeful" that a resolution would eventually win backing.

That may mean major compromises by Washington, however, particularly because both the U.S. and France want unanimity on the Security Council.

A 15-0 vote is considered critical to prevent the divisive consequences of a 1999 resolution. Though that measure passed 11-0, abstentions by France, Russia, China and Malaysia reflected growing divisions on strategy toward Iraq that Hussein exploited to eventually manipulate a three-year reprieve in weapons inspections, U.S. officials say.

The Bush administration is under growing pressure to back down on four key issues, including the idea that Iraq could automatically face military action the first time it fails to comply with U.N. weapons inspectors, according to U.S. and U.N. officials. It's also being stonewalled by France in outlining a world strategy on Iraq.

The government of French President Jacques Chirac is intent on holding out for two separate resolutions. The first would cover the terms of new weapons inspections to find and destroy any chemical, biological and nuclear arms and ballistic missiles. It could even have language warning of consequences, but it would not have an automatic "trigger" that would in effect authorize the U.S. to use force at the first sign of a violation, according to U.N. diplomats.

"It's not just simply a problem of a second resolution, it's about coming back to the Security Council," Ginette de Matha, spokeswoman for the French mission to the U.N., said Tuesday.

"The Security Council must weigh the credibility of any failure [to comply] and decide what to do about it. It could decide to use force. It could choose some other action, like issuing a warning, but the important thing is that it is the council of 15 that decides," De Matha said.

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