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U.N. Action a Step to Healing Rift Among Allies

Security Council vote ending sanctions reflects concern for the Iraqi people and a pragmatic approach to relations with

May 23, 2003|Robin Wright and Sebastian Rotella | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — After months of friction, Thursday's almost-unanimous U.N. Security Council vote on Iraq signaled that the healing process between the United States and important allies -- including France, Russia and Germany -- has begun.

Deep differences, particularly over the merits of the war, are not resolved. But the agreement to lift the world's toughest economic sanctions after 12 years and authorize the U.S.-British occupation of Iraq marks a turning point in one of the rockiest periods in U.S. diplomacy.

"The nations of the world have demonstrated their unity in their commitment to help the Iraqi people on their path toward a better future," President Bush said in a statement from his ranch near Crawford, Texas.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who lobbied for the resolution during visits to Russia and Germany last week and in telephone calls to Security Council members this week, told many counterparts that he wanted a unified vote to "begin the process of repair" after the splits over Iraq, according to a senior State Department official.

Even after passage of the resolution was ensured, Powell kept negotiating to widen the margin of approval, U.S. officials say.

"He's known for some time that the majority supported the resolution. But after his trip and his conversations, he decided to make some accommodations in order to get unanimity -- and it worked," the senior official said. Only Syria abstained, by not showing up for the vote.

Three major factors produced the 14-0 vote in favor of the resolution sponsored by the U.S., Britain and Spain: the shared goal of expediting the reconstruction of Iraq, a common desire to move beyond differences, and last-minute compromises that enhance the U.N. role in Iraq, according to U.S. officials and analysts.

Bush said the resolution paves the way for an "appropriate, vital" role for the United Nations in reconstruction and the political transition to a new Iraqi government.

The United States will "look forward" to working "together" with a new U.N. special representative to "help Iraq recover from three decades of brutal dictatorship," his statement said. The resolution created a "strong and important framework" for many countries to have a role in postwar Iraq, Bush added.

Several Security Council members, particularly France, Russia and Germany, had been pressing for a strong U.N. role in postwar Iraq, after divisions over the war caused the world body to be frozen out of any decisions on the strategic, oil-rich country. One of the key U.S. compromises was its agreement to raise the U.N. profile on the ground: Rather than sending a coordinator, the world body will deploy a "special representative" who is to report to the Security Council.

The resolution won wide support because Security Council members "recognize that, as a practical matter, this thing needs to move forward. While they're still not 100% happy, they're going to be pragmatic," said Brookings Institution Vice President James Steinberg, who served as deputy national security advisor in the Clinton administration.

"We all have big stakes in these relationships. You can't undo what was done, but dwelling in the past is in no one's interest," Steinberg said.

That seemed to be the position of Germany's U.N. ambassador, Gunter Pleuger, who told reporters, "The war that we did not want, and the majority of the council did not want, has taken place. We cannot undo history. We are now in a situation where we have to take action for the sake of the Iraqi people."

Sergei V. Lavrov, Russia's U.N. ambassador, added: "I don't see anything in this resolution that legitimizes the war. It brings the situation back to the international law area."

At a news conference in Paris, Powell said the vote marked a "wonderful day" for Iraqis, who will now see that the U.N. is "coming to assist them."

But America's top diplomat acknowledged that the bad blood of recent months had not been forgiven or forgotten, particularly in the case of France, which was vigorously opposed to the war. "I think [the vote] is a step in the right direction of moving forward together," Powell said in Paris, where he is preparing for Bush's visit in early June for the G-8 summit of industrialized nations.

"Does it mean the disagreements of the past are totally forgotten? No. That was not a very pleasant time for any of us. We have to work our way through it," he added. "I hope we can get all that in the past and work out the sharp edges. We have had disagreements before, and I'm quite confident we'll get through this one."

In a separate news conference, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said the best "therapy" to bridge the tensions is "action."

"France's absolute priority now is to look to the future and address the challenges the world faces," he said, citing terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

French President Jacques Chirac phoned Bush on Thursday, U.S. and French officials noted, to discuss not Iraq but the Group of 8 agenda.

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