Protests and Frustration at the UN

OUTSIDE the iron gates of the United Nations, police on horseback stood guard as crowds of demonstrators, from church groups to veterans in wheelchairs, chanted ``No blood for oil'' and ``Hold back war.'' The faces changed as different groups came and went on Jan. 15, the UN Security Council's deadline for Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait, but the message of strong resistance to the use of force remained the same.

Inside the UN as Jan. 15 progressed, Security Council delegates tried again to find a new diplomatic way out of an almost certain war. A French proposal promising a broad Middle East peace conference had the support of the nonaligned nations but not the United States and Britain. A milder British-Soviet proposal got no support from the nonaligned states.

As if to signify that the world body had tried everything within its powers, UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar sat down at the end of the day next to the familiar blue UN flag in a basement conference room and read aloud to a somber crowd of hundreds of UN delegates and reporters a carefully worded appeal for peace.

The UN leader, who had returned discouraged from his talks with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad only two days before, urged Saddam to turn the course of events away from ``catastrophe.'' If ``clear and substantial steps'' were taken to implement the UN Security Council resolutions, said Mr. P'erez de Cu'ellar, ``a just peace with all its benefits will follow.'' Every effort would be made, he said, to address the Arab-Israeli conflict in a comprehensive manner.

The UN secretary-general, in his 10th and last year at the UN helm, said no cause would give him greater satisfaction than to see the Middle East ``as a whole'' on the road to peace. No disappointment, he said, would be more tragic than to see the world's nations engaging in a conflict ``that none of their peoples want.''

The secretary-general's statement is the kind of appeal that, along with sanctions, could over time prompt Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, said M. T. Mehdi, president of the American-Arab Relations Committee, a UN observer group. Arguing that American military threats only make the Iraqi leader more stubborn, Mr. Mehdi, who was born in Iraq but is now an American citizen, said the US needs to ``cool'' its impatience for instant results. He says that with patience the Gulf crisis could be resolved within five years, but that US troops are likely to be in the Middle East for as long as 50 years if they start war there. He notes that US troops are still in Europe and Korea decades after wars ended there.

And Mehdi suggests that resolving the Palestinian question may reward the US more than Saddam, as the US alleges. ``It would make America act with one standard of morality,'' he says. ``Presently the US opposes bad aggressors and supports good aggressors.''

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