Faced with growing international skepticism, George W. Bush used much of his State of the Union Address in an attempt to build support for his drive to war with Iraq.
His task was made more difficult when weapons inspectors made their first formal report to the United Nations Security Council on Jan. 27. In their statements, chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei said inspectors had carried out 440 inspections at 297 sites and found no evidence that Iraq has any weapons of mass destruction or has revived prohibited weapons programs.
ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said if given a few months the agency should be able to provide “creditable assurance” that Iraq has no nuclear weapons program.
He said those few months “would be a valuable investment in peace, because they could help us avoid war.” Blix, who has come under intense White House pressure, also underscored the value of continuing inspections.
In a departure from general practice, the 15-member Security Council, acting at the request of South Africa, opened its Jan. 27 session to delegations from other countries.
The South African initiative is of particular significance given that is the only nation to have dismantled its nuclear weapons under UN supervision. In urging that inspectors be given “sufficient time to do what we agreed they should be doing,” South African Ambassador Dumisani Shadrack Kumalo noted that it took more than two years to destroy his country’s nuclear arsenal.
In a prepared statement written before the council meeting, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte charged that Iraq is “back to business as usual,” repeating the “denial and deception” that, he said, characterized Iraqi behavior in earlier inspections.
Others, however, disagreed, viewing the reports essential to a broad effort to restrain the United States in what many consider an already-agreed-to decision to invade Iraq. French, Russian and Chinese diplomats asserted that the reports, far from showing Iraq duplicity, demonstrated that no clear-cut case for action exists. “The jobs has not been completed … and more time is needed,” said Zhang Yishan, China’s deputy UN ambassador.
French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said the system “is producing results” and inspectors should be given more time.
Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov seconded Sabliere’s call for additional time, saying inspections “continue well” and should be “encouraged. If someone feels time is running out, the question why should be asked from that particular country.”
British Prime Minster Tony Blair also joined in urging the inspectors be given more time to complete their work. “I don’t know if it will take them months … but they should have what ever time they need.”
Bush’s effort to bully the United Nations into blindly following it into war with Iraq is made more difficult by changes in the membership the Security Council. In January German and Pakistan, both staunch opponents of military action against Iraq, assumed their place among the five new members of the council as part of a process where the 10 seats of non-permanent members of the Security Council are rotated among the 200 members of the UN. Germany will become president of the council in February.
Jody Dodd, outreach coordinator for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, said the United States should be working to strengthen the authority of the UN rather than “weakening and depleting” it.
Dodd said the United States was trying to put Iraq in a “no win situation. Instead of being innocent until proven guilty, the U.S. says they guilty until proven innocent,” adding: “The U.S. admits inspectors have found no smoking gun but still insist that we have the right to invade Iraq – or nay other country – just because we say so. And don’t forget,” she added, “We should all be working to build the February 15 peace marches around the country.”
Gene Bruskin, a co-founder of U.S. Labor Against the War, said there is the growing opposition to Bush’s drive to war within the ranks of the labor movement. Pointing to recent statements by the Service Employees, Communications Workers and the Los Angeles County Labor Council, Brisken said, “Bush’s policies are setting him on a collision course with the American people. We have to stay the course,” he said, urging trade unionists to participate in the Feb. 15 events. “Bush is feeling the pressure, out job is to keep it up.”
Gloria Johnson, national president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), said she believes that union members and leaders have a responsibility to inform working people about issues that affect their lives, jobs and families. “And we should be vocal participants in the national debate on such issues,” she said
Johnson said the billions of dollars a war with Iraq would cost would be taken away from schools, hospitals, housing, Social Security, environmental protection and medical care. “The administration’s call for war is an intended distraction from legitimate concerns such as a failing economy, corporate corruption and greed and increasing layoffs and unemployment,” she said and warned that armed conflict in Iraq will “likely exacerbate the misunderstandings and mistrust that have led to an increase of terrorism around the globe.”
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