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Britain's 'Good Cop' at the United Nations

Diplomacy: Complementing the U.S. is a specialty of veteran Jeremy Greenstock.


UNITED NATIONS — In the intricate art of diplomacy, Britain has taken a page from a more street-level realm of persuasion: playing good cop to the United States' bad cop.

The diplomat with that delicate brief here is Jeremy Greenstock, an ambassador of the old-school, pinstriped-pants variety who began his career 33 years ago in the Middle East and may retire this year still dealing with the region's complications--particularly Iraq.

In the effort to get the U.N. Security Council to confront Baghdad, as in a range of other issues, it is Greenstock who quietly serves a plate of carrots, while the U.S. ambassador stands by with a big stick.

"The U.S. delivers the power, and the U.K. delivers the means," Greenstock said Friday as the council continued discussions on just how to handle Iraq. "It's an extremely complementary relationship."

So, for instance, when President Bush challenges the U.N. to act forcefully against Iraq or prove itself irrelevant, Britain discreetly describes what action is possible and how. While most of the Security Council's 15 members want to compel Baghdad to disarm, they are loath to start a process that might lead to war.

After Iraq's surprise agreement Monday to let weapons inspectors resume their work in the country, the United States and Britain saw their unanimous support on the council evaporate. Diplomats say Greenstock has been especially effective behind the scenes in rebuilding support, sounding out ambassadors and gauging how much they might be willing to compromise.

By Friday evening, it appeared that nearly all of the council members were once again willing to consider a tough resolution against Iraq early next week.

"Since the U.K. is nowhere near a superpower, it must be more persuasive in the way it does things," Greenstock said. "It's a matter of marshaling arguments and having good relationships. That does not mean that the U.S. cannot or is not doing that. But often there is something that we can do it cannot."

On Friday, Greenstock arranged a briefing on Iraq for the 10 members of the Security Council that are elected for a two-year rotation and don't have veto power. The fact that the 10 are often left on the fringes when the permanent five members--the United States, Britain, China, Russia and France--huddle has been a point of resentment in the past.

"He didn't push us," Jagdish Koonjul, the ambassador from Mauritius, said after the meeting. "He just put it all on the table and, at the end of the meeting, we seemed to be in agreement: Iraq's noncompliance will lead to consequences. Next week, we talk about what 'consequences' means."

Next week's discussion will have grave significance. The only way to guarantee Security Council agreement on a resolution is to somehow sanction military action without actually spelling that out, diplomats say. But it is the particular talent of British diplomats to find a way out of a deadlock through the creative use of language. In the case of Iraq, members who are reluctant to back military intervention might find refuge in the words "material breach."

That's a term of international law that the British team has suggested including in the expected resolution on Iraq. A finding that Iraq is in "material breach" of any of a dozen U.N. resolutions would allow individual member states to take "necessary action"--which could mean a military strike--to ensure Iraq's compliance. Such language would allow cover for those countries that don't want to explicitly back the use of force.

This division of duties--conceptualizer and consensus-builder--between the U.S. and Britain has developed over decades at the U.N. While the nations' interests are not always the same, they have built a basic level of trust that is rare in diplomatic circles.

"We often work together, and we work very well," Greenstock said. But he was careful to point out that Britain is "not always the good cop."

In fact, despite his talent for diplomatic tact, Greenstock is known for being refreshingly straightforward. He has criticized Washington for not paying its U.N. dues--the U.S. still owes nearly a billion dollars--and for abrogating international treaties.

And Greenstock said that despite U.S. frustration with the pace of getting a group of nations to agree, he doesn't think the U.S. will take on Iraq alone.

"The U.S. may lose confidence in the U.N. to deal with the most difficult political issues," he said. "But there's no chance that the U.S. will leave the U.N. behind--the U.N. is too important on too many issues."

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