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A veto dilemma for three nations

The US is expected to introduce a tough new proposal on Iraq inspections at the UN Security Council this week.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 30, 2002



WASHINGTON

As the US begins to push for United Nations approval of a tough new draft resolution for dealing with Iraq, it's getting a cold shoulder from three key nations – France, China, and Russia.

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Whether these three veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council can ultimately be persuaded to back the US plan – which requires Iraq to quickly and fully reveal its weapons inventory – is the pressing question of the moment.

All three powerful nations clearly face a dilemma. If they balk, the US may proceed alone on Iraq – and perhaps on other issues in the future. Yet all three – especially Russia and China – are loath to risk souring their relations with the world's only superpower by rejecting the plan. They're fully aware of Washington's "with-us-or-with-the-terrorists" worldview. And they've seen the high diplomatic price Germany has paid for not toeing the Bush line on Iraq.

The US – backed by Britain – is expected to formally introduce the plan at the UN this week. And there's been a flurry of shuttle diplomacy between Washington, Paris, Beijing, and Moscow. Yet as US Secretary of State Colin Powell put it last week, "We're a long way from getting agreement."

The plan reportedly calls for Iraq to reveal all its materials relating to weapons of mass destruction – and give unfettered access to all key buildings, including presidential palaces. If Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein fails to comply, "all necessary means" may be used against him.

This weekend, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan rejected the plan, saying, "Our position on the inspectors has been decided, and any additional procedure is meant to hurt Iraq and is unacceptable."

Some analysts suspect Iraq's rejection may be exactly what some administration members wanted. The plan was written, the analysts suggest, by hawks on the Bush team as a no-lose proposition: If Iraq and the UN balk, that opens the way to US military action. If they happen to back the plan, it puts Iraq in a UN-approved straitjacket.

Meanwhile, France is still pushing a plan that would set up a two-step process for approaching Iraq. It would require the UN Security Council to authorize war with a separate resolution – but only if Iraq obstructs the return of UN weapons inspectors.

But the US administration continues to press its case. Over the past few days, the US draft was presented by Secretary Powell to Chinese officials and taken by a high-level State Department official to Paris and Moscow.

The case against a veto

Experts say both Russia and China will be especially anxious not to veto the resolution in the Security Council for three basic reasons: First, leaders in both countries believe their top-priority domestic preoccupations require strengthening – rather than straining – ties with the US.

Second, neither nation wants to isolate itself from the international community over Iraq. So, while expressing concerns in concert with other "Perm 5" Security Council members is possible, neither would want to stand alone.

Third, both countries are keenly interested in keeping the globe's only superpower working within the international political system – and controlling its temptations to operate alone.

"The Chinese realize the US is the sole superpower, and that's a change," says Richard Bush, a China expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"Not so long ago they were still hoping for a multipolar system, but they now realize that's a ways off." Adds Paul Saunders, a Russia expert at the Nixon Center, a Washington think tank, "The Russians, and the Chinese for that matter, realize the only framework where they have any leverage over American decisions is the UN. They have no interest in pushing the US outside it."

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