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Analysis: Debate At The U.N. Over Iraq

Weekend Edition Saturday: September 14, 2002

U.S., U.N. & Iraq


President Bush plans to discuss what steps to take against Iraq when he meets with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi today at Camp David. Mr. Bush has said he does not expect Saddam Hussein to cooperate with the United Nations to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. But this week, the president told the United Nations General Assembly that the United States will work with the UN to draft new resolutions for Iraq's disarmament, and he strongly urged the Security Council to enforce those resolutions. NPR's Vicky O'Hara has been following the debate at the UN and joins us from New York.

Vicky, thanks for being with us.

VICKY O'HARA reporting:

Good morning.

SIMON: And, Vicky, the UN passed 16 resolutions on Iraq since the Persian Gulf War. The president, in fact, enumerated many of them in his speech and enumerated Iraq's defiance of them. Why new resolutions?

O'HARA: The president has made it clear that he expects the United Nations is going to have to take some sort of action to enforce compliance. The president is making an obvious effort to make the campaign against Iraq a UN operation rather than a United States operation. And the administration, in apparent response to criticisms that it was acting unilaterally, says it really wants the United Nations to take the lead on this, and the only way to really do that is to try to draft new resolutions that have some sort of enforcement mechanism spelled out in them.

SIMON: So that would make them different from the previous 16?

O'HARA: Yes, it would. What a senior State Department official said is that the United States would like to see three things in the new resolutions. He said that the resolutions should spell out, first of all, all of the ways in which Iraq already is not in compliance with the United Nations, what Iraq would have to do to come into compliance with a clear deadline for doing so. And they would also like to see the resolutions spell out precisely what will happen if Iraq refuses.

SIMON: Yeah. How precisely? Would it mention military action? Would it mention the president's stated goal of a regime change?

O'HARA: Well, it certainly wouldn't mention regime change, at least according to officials here because the goal, at least here at the United Nations, is to gain compliance with the existing resolutions, and none of those resolutions talk about regime change. So I think what they're talking about, or at least what they're going to be talking about here in New York next week when these consultations resume is exactly, you know, what the enforcement mechanism would be. The United Nations already has economic sanctions against Iraq, to no avail. So the debate really is going to be, you know, what can be done, if anything, short of some sort of full-scale military assault.

SIMON: And can you tell right now, Vicky, what members of the Security Council are most likely to support the United States and, for that matter, those which are most likely to be opposed?

O'HARA: Even Russia, which has good relations with Iraq, is starting to put pressure on Baghdad. Yesterday Russia's foreign minister, that's Igor Ivanov, said that if Iraq refuses to cooperate with the UN, Iraq's government will have to take responsibility for the consequences. Of course, deciding what the consequences is going to be is going to be somewhat problematic. There's great resistance among some countries, certainly Arab countries, to any attack on Iraq. And it'll be interesting to see if the Security Council can come up with an enforcement mechanism that's short of a military assault.

SIMON: Vicky, thanks very much.

O'HARA: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: NPR's Vicky O'Hara.

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