February 14-17 was not a good weekend for United States as it received several swift kicks to the posterior portion of its political anatomy as leaders of the world community turned thumbs down on the U.S. drive to war with Iraq.
The first kick came on Valentines Day when the UN Security Council overwhelmingly rejected the U.S. demand that it issue an “or else” ultimatum declaring Iraq in “material breech” of UN resolutions requiring it to disarm.
Only Spain and England, backed with weak support form Bulgaria, made any attempt to defend the U.S. in the following debate. The other 11 council members council urged giving UN weapons inspectors more time to do their job.
Dominique de Villepin, French foreign minister, set the tone for those opposed to the rush to war with an eloquent speech that elicited rare applause from diplomats sitting in the Security Council gallery.
De Villepin said inspections are working and can “provide an effective response to disarming Iraq.” He warned that the use of force “would be so fraught with risks for people, for the region and for international stability that it should only be envisioned as a last resort.”
Looking directly at U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, de Villepin challenged those who equate the inspection process with delay: “No one can assert today that the path of war will be shorter than that of inspections. No one can claim, either, that it might lead to a safer, more just and more stable world. Given this context, the use of force is not justified.”
He also challenged Powell’s claim of ties between the Iraq regime and al Qaeda, saying, “Given the present state of our research and intelligence, nothing allows us to establish such links.”
Then, in what may be a warning of things to come, de Villepin said, “Nothing, at any time, in this Security Council, will be done in haste, misunderstanding, suspicion or fear.”
The foreign ministers of China, the Russian Federation and Germany added their voices to the demand that inspectors be given more time and that any decision to resort to force be made by the Security Council.
Tang Jiaxuan, foreign minister of China, urged the council to seek a political settlement. “Only then can we truly live up to the trust and hope the international community places in the Security Council.”
“Decisions must be undertaken by the Security Council alone,” Josehka Fischer, foreign minister of Germany, said.
Later, an obviously angry Powell put aside his prepared remarks and lectured his colleagues. Glaring at de Villepin, he repeated the time-worn argument that to grant more time to inspectors was to fall into Iraq’s trap of delay and deceit.
“We cannot allow this process to be endlessly strung out. The threat of force must remain,” Powell declared.
The Feb. 14 meeting of the Security Council opened with reports by UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Muhamed ElBaradei, both of whom said they had found little evidence that Iraq had prohibited weapons.
Blix said inspection teams “have not found any such weapons, only a small number of empty chemical munitions.” ElBaradei was even more forceful, stating flatly: “We have to date found no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear or nuclear-related activities in Iraq.”
Blix told the council that U-2 aircraft would begin surveillance flights (the first took place on Feb. 17) and that the Iraqi parliament had voted to ban production or importation of weapons of mass destruction only hours before the council meeting.
Blix, like de Villepin, cast doubt on evidence Powell provided the council Feb. 5 claiming that Iraq had cleaned-up suspect sites before inspectors arrived.
Pointing to Powell’s claim that satellite photos of trucks parked at a munitions depot where being loaded with banned weapons in order to hide them from inspectors, Blix said, “The reported movement of munitions at the site could just as easily been a routine activity.” He added there has been “no convincing evidence” that Iraqi officials knew in advance that inspectors were coming.
The United States fared no better on Feb. 17 when grassroots opposition to war found its reflection in a statement adopted by a special meeting of the European Union (EU).
Pointing to the fact that the manner in which the situation in Iraq is handled will have “an important impact on the world,” leaders of the 15-member union said war is not inevitable. “We want to achieve this peacefully. It is clear that this is what the people of Europe want.”
The worldwide call for a peaceful solution to disarming Iraq was echoed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan who told reporters it was up to the Security Council to decide if Iraq was complying with Resolution 1441.
The U.S., France, Russia, China and England, each a permanent member of the Security Council, have the power to veto any action by the council. They can also abstain from voting, thus creating a situation where any nine of the council’s 15 members can take binding action.
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