"Pressure works. We're going to keep it up."
With Saddam Hussein's regime having made some concessions to the U.N.'s chief inspector, that's the way Secretary of State Colin Powell sees the diplomatic and political play-by-play that's now taking place between capitals and senior officials representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – those with veto power. The Bush administration continues trying to persuade the French, Russians and Chinese to join the U.S. and Britain in the wording on a new, tough resolution demanding Iraq comply with U N weapons inspectors or face U.S.-led military action.
The verbal pressure continued with President George W. Bush saying if Iraq did not comply with U N resolutions to end its weapons of mass destruction programs, "the use of force may become unavoidable." With the president himself working the issue, the U.S. strategy can be seen in only one way: high risk, high reward.
If the U.S. can persuade others to follow its lead, it wins because it tried the diplomatic route and the Iraqis were the ones, once again, who failed to cooperate. If this strategy fails to convince the French and Russians, then the administration will have to take the criticism of having misplayed its hand. The administration could be seen as really wanting to go to war no matter what. That is, the Bush administration wants Saddam Hussein out of power more than it wants Iraq to disarm.
Powell's message to the other Perm 5 members for now is to hold the Iraqis accountable, keeping the burden on Saddam Hussein's government, not on the Security Council.
Two options are available. The U.S., says Powell, is only interested in its own, one-resolution solution. That is, a single resolution which spells out Iraq's past violations, states what Iraq must do to correct the situation and, in its most controversial aspect, says what the consequences would be if Iraq fails to comply.
Leading the opposition to this strategy are the French, who favor holding back for a second resolution the language about consequences for failure to comply with inspectors.
The French and Russians, with strong economic interests in Iraq, are not at all anxious to see anyone resort to military action. They clearly do not like what appears to them as Washington's predisposition to use military force.
Powell sent a top deputy, Undersecretary for Political Affairs Marc Grossman, to Paris and Moscow for face to face talks. It was a tough sell. Washington sees the French strategy of two resolutions as a delaying tactic and, while it has not completely ruled it out, the Bush administration is now clearly focused on its one resolution strategy.
As one State Department official put it, "we're not interested in anything but our own draft." The French are busy doing the same thing and currently no middle ground has been found.
In the middle of these efforts, Dr. Hans Blix, the U.N.'s chief weapons inspector, held talks in Vienna with senior Iraqi officials about the conditions under which inspectors could return to Iraq under existing U.N. resolutions. Though they reached agreement in certain areas, the Iraqis continued to reject the right of inspectors to go to certain sites —- mostly presidential palaces —- anytime they wanted. Blix said he'd send inspectors in in a couple of weeks.
But these understandings are not acceptable to the Bush administration, as Powell made clear when he told reporters "we do not believe that they should go back in under the old set of resolutions and under the old inspection regime, and therefore we do not believe they should go back in until they have new instructions in the form of a new resolution."
One State department official summed up the current state of negotiations as "the diplomatic dance is what it is." While there may be some frustration in Washington with the French and Russian positions, the administration still has perhaps several more weeks of diplomatic dancing ahead of it before the next course of action is mapped out at the United Nations.
By Charles M. Wolfson