Tuesday, January 21, 2003

France Vows to Block Resolution on Iraq War

Note: This is the famous "French Ambush" article.

Correction to This Article
A Jan. 21 article quoted German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer as saying that Iraq "has complied fully" with all U.N. resolutions and cooperated with U.N. inspectors. Fischer actually said Iraq has to "comply fully" with U.N. resolutions and to cooperate with U.N. inspectors.

France Vows to Block Resolution on Iraq War
U.S. Schedule Put at Risk By U.N. Debate

By Glenn Kessler and Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 21, 2003; Page A01

UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 20 -- France suggested today it would wage a major diplomatic fight, including possible use of its veto power, to prevent the U.N. Security Council from passing a resolution authorizing military action against Iraq.

France's opposition to a war, emphatically delivered here by Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, is a major blow for the Bush administration, which has begun pouring tens of thousands of troops into the Persian Gulf in preparation for a military conflict this spring. The administration had hoped to mark the final phase in its confrontation with Iraq when U.N. weapons inspectors deliver a progress report Monday.

But in a diplomatic version of an ambush, France and other countries used a high-level Security Council meeting on terrorism to lay down their markers for the debate that will commence next week on the inspectors' report. Russia and China, which have veto power, and Germany, which will chair the Security Council in February, also signaled today they were willing to let the inspections continue for months.

Only Britain appeared to openly support the U.S. position that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has thwarted effective inspections.

"If war is the only way to resolve this problem, we are going down a dead end," de Villepin told reporters. "Already we know for a fact that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs are being largely blocked, even frozen. We must do everything possible to strengthen this process."

The United Nations, he said, should stay "on the path of cooperation. The other choice is to move forward out of impatience over a situation in Iraq to move towards military intervention. We believe that today nothing justifies envisaging military action."

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in the face of such comments, departed from his prepared text on terrorism and implored his colleagues to remember that the Security Council resolution passed unanimously Nov. 8 gave Iraq "a last chance" to meet its obligations. "We must not shrink from our duties and our responsibilities when the material comes before us next week," Powell said. He used a variation of the phrase "must not shrink" three more times as he addressed the council.

During the weeks of debate on the Iraq resolution, French officials had indicated they were open to some sort of military intervention if Iraq did not comply. But now the French appear to have set much higher hurdles for support.

Rising opposition to war, particularly in France, appears to have played a role in the hardening positions on the Security Council. Foreign officials are also aware of polls in the United States suggesting that support for a war drops dramatically if the Bush administration does not have U.N. approval.

While the United Nations was debating today, U.S. military officials announced that the Army is sending a force of about 37,000 soldiers, spearheaded by the Texas-based 4th Infantry Division, to the Persian Gulf region. It is the largest ground force identified among an estimated 125,000 U.S. troops ordered to deploy since Christmas Eve, the Associated Press reported.

At the United Nations, several foreign ministers said a war in Iraq would spawn more terrorist acts around the globe and, in the words of Germany's Joschka Fischer, have "disastrous consequences for long-term regional stability."

"Terrorism is far from being crushed," said Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. "We must be careful not to take unilateral steps that might threaten the unity of the entire [anti-]terrorism coalition. In this context we are strictly in favor of a political settlement of the situation revolving around Iraq."

Powell replied: "We cannot fail to take the action that may be necessary because we are afraid of what others might do. We cannot be shocked into impotence because we are afraid of the difficult choices that are ahead of us."

But when the foreign ministers emerged from the council debate and addressed reporters, it appeared that Powell's pleas had made little impact. Although President Bush said last week he was "sick and tired of games and deception," Fischer said the inspections were a success.

"Iraq has complied fully with all relevant resolutions and cooperated very closely with the U.N. team on the ground," Fischer said. "We think things are moving in the right direction, based on the efforts of the inspection team, and [they] should have all the time which is needed."

Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said Monday's report should be regarded as a "new beginning" rather than an end to inspections. The chief weapons inspectors "have been talking about that there is more work to do in terms of the inspections and they need more time. I think we should respect their opinion and support their work."

De Villepin, in a lengthy and at times theatrical news conference, was asked whether France would use its veto power to thwart Washington's campaign for quick action. He said France "will shoulder its responsibilities, faithful to the principles it has."

France would never "associate ourselves with military intervention that is not supported by the international community," de Villepin added. "We think that military intervention would be the worst possible solution."

France, as chair of the Security Council this month, had organized today's meeting on terrorism in part to draw attention to its contention that the Iraq situation has detracted from the more pressing need to confront international terrorism.

De Villepin reacted coolly to suggestions, made by senior Bush administration officials Sunday, that Hussein and his top advisers be offered political asylum outside Iraq to avert a war. "The problem is something more difficult than a question of change of regime," he said. "Let us not be diverted from our objective. It is the disarmament of Iraq."

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan also indirectly criticized the prospect of war when he addressed the council on terrorism. "Any sacrifice of freedom or the rule of law within states -- or any generation of new disputes between states in the name of anti-terrorism -- is to hand the terrorists a victory that no act of theirs could possibly bring," he said, alluding to frequent U.S. assertions that the confrontation with Iraq is part of the larger war on terrorism.

The only sign of support for the U.S. position came from its closest ally, Britain. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said "time was running out" for Hussein and his "cat and mouse" game. But Straw added that Britain preferred a U.N. resolution authorizing force.

"Iraq has a responsibility now to avoid a conflict, to avoid a war," Powell told reporters. "There is no question that Iraq continues to misunderstand the seriousness of the position that it's in.

"If the United Nations is going to be relevant," he added, "it has to take a firm stand."

Saturday, January 18, 2003

Arab nations tell Saddam: go now and we avoid war | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited

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Saudi plan for Iraq leader to go into exile

Jonathan Steele and Ewen MacAskill
Saturday January 18, 2003
The Guardian

The Saudi government is canvassing a plan to give Saddam Hussein a last-ditch chance to go into exile if the United Nations security council passes a new resolution authorising war against Iraq, western and Arab diplomats have confirmed.

Under the plan, Saudi Arabia would ask for a meeting of the Arab League to nominate a delegation to go to Baghdad and urge the Iraqi leader to avert war by leaving the country.

Arab diplomats have little hope that President Saddam will agree, and certainly not at the moment when he is assumed to believe the security council may yet step back from the brink - either because of divisions in its ranks or because weapons inspectors have found no "smoking gun" to prove he has violated earlier resolutions.

But they feel they must at least try to get him to give up, once the die is cast by the security council.

The plan is delicate because no Arab government is happy to promote "regime change" in a brother Arab nation.

The Saudi government said this week that it was preparing a new "initiative" but confirmed no details. "The Saudis do not want to make the details official but they have been leaking it," a western diplomat said yesterday.

"The concept is if you have a decision by the UN to go to war, give a chance for diplomacy to work before you go to war," the Saudi foreign minister, Saud al Faisal, told reporters in Riyadh.

Saddam Hussein has not left his country since the invasion of Kuwait more than 12 years ago, and few diplomats expect him to accept exile rather than go down fighting.

"I really doubt that Saddam would want exile. He's not the type to leave the country," a senior adviser to the government of one of Iraq's neighbours said this week.

Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, and Turkey's prime minister, Abdullah Gul, discussed the plan with Saudi Arabia's ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, in Riyadh this week. Refusing to go into details on the initiative, Crown Prince Abdullah told reporters he believed war would be avoided.

Saudi Arabia and other regional states will meet in Turkey next week for a final push to persuade President Saddam to cooperate with weapons inspectors. They will send a delegation to Baghdad and then to Washington, a senior Arab diplomat said.

News of the Saudi plan may have prompted the Iraqi leader to send his special envoy, Ali Hassan al-Majeed, a member of the revolutionary command council, yesterday on a tour of Arab capitals. A former general, Ali Hassan al-Majeed - sometimes dubbed "Chemical Ali" - was in charge of gas attacks on Iraqi Kurds at Halabja in 1988.

He began his sudden regional tour with a visit to Syria, the only Arab member of the security council. Majeed, a cousin of President Saddam, met President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Later he told reporters any talk of exile for President Saddam in a sympathetic state was absurd.

Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, has also delivered messages from President Saddam to Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco over the past week.

Saudi Arabia has become the unofficial Arab leader since it launched a Middle Eastern peace initiative last March. As the largest country in the Gulf and with internal tensions gradually rising, Saudi Arabia is more worried about regional stability than almost any other Arab state.

It fears an American-led war, whether or not it has UN backing, could cause heavy civilian casualties and radicalize Arab populations throughout the Middle East. It might also lead to the break-up of Iraq, and prompt Washington to move on to try to change the regime in Iran, as well as in states on the Arab side of the Gulf.

Its sudden burst of diplomacy around Iraq, starting with next week's meeting in Turkey, and the fall-back plan of urging the Iraqi leader to accept exile, reflect the deepening realization in Arab states that the United States has dispatched enough troops to make a decision for war imminent.

Speculative elaborations on the Saudi plan emerged yesterday but diplomats gave them little credence.

Time magazine said Saudi Arabia hoped to encourage Iraqi generals to overthrow the Iraqi leader and his clique.

The magazine said the Saudi proposal required a UN amnesty for the vast majority of Iraqi officials if they mounted a coup. It would extend to all but 100-120 of the most senior Baath party officials, including President Saddam, his close relatives and others in the ruling circle.

"If there is amnesty for the rest of the government, Saddam will be checkmated," Time quoted one diplomat as saying. The proposed amnesty would be conditional on cooperation in implementing UN resolutions on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

"I doubt whether the international community would give Saddam immunity. There are many others in his entourage who would also not get it," a western diplomat said yesterday.


Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Video: Secret Memo (The Road To Iraq)

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Secret Memo (The Road To Iraq)

Another good probing report from ITN's Ch4 News. This one about the White House memo. Details: Mr Bush was going to war in Iraq regardless of the outcome of a 2nd UN resolution. Mr Blair is "solidly with the President"

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