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MARGARET WARNER: After winning congressional authorization last week to go to war against Iraq, the Bush Administration has turned its attention to the United Nations. The U.S. and Britain have circulated a draft U.N. resolution imposing a tough new inspection regime on Iraq, and threatening force if Baghdad does not comply.
But France, Russia, and China, who all wield a veto in the Security Council, have balked. Tomorrow, after weeks of behind- the-scenes negotiations, the 15 member Council is scheduled to begin a two-day public debate.
For insight into all this, we turn to two former U.S. Ambassadors to the United Nations. Jeane Kirkpatrick held the post in the Reagan administration; Richard Holbrooke in the Clinton administration. Welcome to you both. Ambassador Holbrooke, how do you read the state of play right now at the U. N.?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I think we’re not really talking about the United Nations as an organization, we never really were. And blaming the U.N., as some administration officials have done for this situation, is quite inaccurate. It’s like blaming Madison Square Garden for the poor performance of the New York Nicks have put on in the basketball season. The U.N. is just the building on the East River, Margaret. What we’re really talking about is not all 190 nations, it’s not even the 15 nations of the Security Council, it is three nations, you mentioned them, France, China and Russia.
The Chinese are not going to be a final objector, they won’t use their veto so it comes down to France and Russia. Tony Blair went to Moscow over the weekend to talk to Putin. The final decisions in this aren’t going to be made in New York, they’re going to be made in the capitals. And the Russians appear to be hanging tough only to protect their own economic interests. I don’t think they really care about the substance of the issue.
The French are holding tough for a technical point, they want two resolutions instead of one. The first resolution would authorize a new tough notice any time, anywhere air tight inspection regime. And as I understand it from my contacts with European and American diplomats in New York, the French would then agree to a second resolution if the Iraqis violated the first one — as they undoubtedly will, by the way.
Then we get to the U.S. position. You have no doubt seen and reported that the United States government does not want a two-stage resolution. Now, any good diplomat can work this out. You can write a first resolution with automaticity in it, a triggering mechanism, very tough language, so my prediction, and this is based simply on intuition, nothing I know from the inside, my prediction is that within a week or so, Secretary Powell and John Negroponte, the ambassador to New York, both excellent diplomats will produce an acceptable resolution that the French and the Russians sign into, and then we’ll be on the way.
MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Kirkpatrick do you read it in a similar fashion?
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: Absolutely, I think there’s no question about it. There’s no question that the council is somewhat divided, that there are three countries, you know, who are our principle problems if you will, stumbling blocks — we could call them that. I fully expect that these differences will be ultimately resolved. And I don’t know exactly how they’ll be resolved, but I think we’ve been working on it for quite some time.
MARGARET WARNER: Give also little insight into the French in particular, because they really have been the lead objector here.
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: A couple things to say. You know the definition of university professors — or “people who think otherwise,” you know the French are sort of “people who think otherwise.” They all like to have their own position, which is never quite the same, or rarely quite the same as anybody else’s position, least of all the United States position. And I think there’s a significant element just of this thinking otherwise, the French position.
I think they also have like to think of themselves as having a kind of special relationship with a number of the once formerly colonial, Arab areas in the Mediterranean and they think of themselves as understanding them better, and dealing more effectively with them. And they finally don’t like really to, just, they don’t like to follow the United States. If it was our idea, they’d rather do something different.
MARGARET WARNER: Professor Holbrooke, add to that.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Well, I agree with everything that Jeane Kirkpatrick just said. It reminds me a little of that famous line from ‘My Fair Lady,’ where Professor Higgins says to Eliza Doolittle, “The French don’t actually care what you say as long as you pronounce it correctly.” This is really the French concern with two things, in addition to what Jeane just said.
Number one, the French want to preserve a special role for the Security Council in such affairs because the Security Council, which gave the French a permanent seat and the right of a veto when it was created in 1945 is France’s most important claim to big power status. After all, if you were reconstructing the Security Council in 2002, France and the U.K. would not both get permanent seats and vetoes. So that’s important to the French.
And the second thing is that the French want to have some kind of demonstration, as Jeane said, that they don’t just run along behind the U.S. But I want to underscore something that Jeane and I have both said and it needs to be stressed. This is a technical diplomatist argument. This is easily solvable if Colin Powell and his French counterparts can reach a private understanding that if it’s not all in one resolution, that there is automaticity, that is the consequences of violation of a new resolution are an automatic move within 48 hours to give authorization to use force against Iraq.
Now, that is a decision that will not be made at the U.N.; that will be made by President Bush. Right now the Bush administration has said very clearly they want a single resolution. The French have said they want two. President Bush’s comments yesterday suggested he was trying to work with the French. I know he’s been in touch with President Chirac directly. If President Putin comes around and supports it, it’s hard for me to see how the French can be the lone holdout against such a clear menace to world peace as Saddam Hussein.
MARGARET WARNER: But Ambassador Kirkpatrick, that brings up, and what we’ve talked about with the French is it has to do with positioning and their power, and so on. What about on the actual substance? Do you think they see Saddam Hussein as great a threat, do they really see the need for a tough new inspection regime and some consequences if he doesn’t comply? Or is this all just part of trying to head off the U.S. on the use of force?
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: Well, I think there is an element of trying to head off the U.S. on the use of force, as we’ve discussed, Dick Holbrooke and I have discussed. But I think also that there’s an element of the French not seeing danger perhaps in Saddam Hussein to quite the extent that most other countries and heads of state, foreign officers do. I think that President Chirac thinks of himself as knowing and in some sense understanding Saddam Hussein better than other people do and doesn’t see him therefore as quite as dangerous.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think given these difficulties that the Bush Administration was correct nonetheless to go to the U.N.?
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: Well, you know, it’s done, there’s not much point in even looking at it. It was not necessary. It was a matter of not refusing to go to the U.N., I think. And the President was probably right not to refuse to go to the U N. Dick Holbrooke, for example’
MARGARET WARNER: And Ambassador Holbrooke, you recommended that he do go to the U.N. as I recall.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Well, thank you. My own view on this was very clear. It was highly desirable, but not essential that we get a new U.N. resolution. It was essential for President Bush to go to the U N, as it was for him to get that congressional approval. The American public and the international public want to see a international effort. But I stress, and here Jeane and I would agree, that if you don’t get a new U.N. resolution, the Iraqi violation of the existing dozen resolutions is in fact quite sufficient to justify action against an international outlaw.
But the failure to go to the U.N. would have mobilized word opinion against us. I’ve just been in London, Margaret, and I can tell you that the prime minister, Tony Blair, is way out on a limb on this one, he is supporting us, but he has told President Bush that he needs the evidence of an all out good faith effort to get Security Council approval.
MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Kirkpatrick, of course the Iraqis have not been passive in all this, they’ve made these offers about inspections, then it’s been unclear how much they really offered. What impact do you think their actions have had on these deliberations, any?
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: You know, I believe that the Iraqis are very skillful U.N. players, we might say. The Iraqis are diplomats, are skillful diplomats, and they are skillful in the U.N. context and in the secretariat, and the Security Council. They know how it works, and they know how to make it work, or prevent it from working.
And I have no doubt, I don know precisely what they’ve been doing right now, but I have no doubt that they’ve been doing something effective to try to block the adoption of, the U.S. preferred resolution, for one thing, and also to reinforce the position of France and any one else creating obstacles to the passage of a resolution.
MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Holbrooke?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Well, I would like to just make a comment on that. The Iraqis have been backing up under intense American and British-led pressure. The inspectors left in 1998, President Clinton bombed Iraq for several days. The inspectors never came back, and for four years Saddam has been doing whatever he does unwatched by the international community. It was only when Saddam realized that his back was to the wall that he began to play.
Ten days ago, Secretary of State Powell had a very important meeting with the U.N. chief inspector, Hans Blix, and a very good international civil servant from Sweden with a lot of experience. After that meeting, Hans Blix said that he will not go back into Iraq until he gets a new Security Council resolution. It seems to me that that would suggest that the Baghdad diplomacy is not working, and they are thrashing around more and more desperately as they see the net closing in around them.
MARGARET WARNER: And he said that again today, by the way, Hans Blix did.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Margaret, that’s very important, I didn’t know Blix had said that. But if Blix reaffirmed that today, it seems to me, Jeane, that what you’ve got is a situation with no exit for Iraq any more, because if Blix will not send in the inspectors without a new resolution, I don’t see how the Russians and French can afford a new resolution since they both support Blix.
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: I’d just like to say I don’t disagree with what you said except that I would say that Iraq will continue to try to thwart the resolution to the last possible moment.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now let’s analyze of course the impact the president has had and developments in Washington have had. First of all, what impact do you think, Ambassador Kirkpatrick, the president’s, essentially I guess you call it a warning to the U.N., that if the U.N. doesn’t act, the U.S. will. Is that the catalyst for all this?
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: Let me say that I think the President’s speech was very important. It was very important because it’s was an effective and clear explanation of the U.S. case, if you will, the case against Iraq. And that’s one thing. And for another, I think the president’s statement, speech was important because it did make very clear, because he said and it reiterated it, that if the U.N., if the U.N. has an obligation to act, because they had passed so many resolutions, 16 resolutions, he reviewed them, which Saddam Hussein had violated.
MARGARET WARNER: But did that make the other members resentful, or have some other effect?
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: No, I think that the President’s visit to the U.N. made a very positive impression, actually, and continues to make a positive impression.
MARGARET WARNER: And Ambassador Holbrooke your view on that, and also couple it with the impact that the congressional resolution had at the U.N., because as you know the administration made clear they hope that would help pressure the U.N. to act, or the Security Council.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Well, I think there are three phases to this. The summer was not a strong or effective moment for American leadership, because the administration left the impression that they were not going to consult Congress, seek many allies, or go to the Security Council of the U.N.
The September 12 speech which Jeane just mentioned was a well crafted and very well delivered speech, because it made the international community part of the process without, and I stress this, without the president changing the U.S. objective in any way, shape or form. Your question, did they resent it or respond to it, the answer really is a bit of both. They hate American pressure, but absent American leadership you won’t have action in this or any other issue, as we saw in Bosnia and Kosovo in the last seven years. And this is a similar situation. So I support American leadership and American pressure.
And finally, as to the last part of your question, this administration reversed the sequence of Bush Senior in 1990-91. In 1990-91 the Bush administration did the U.N. Security Council first and Congress second, and held both off until after the mid terms. This time around it was the exact reverse. I supported that when I testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee two weeks ago. I know that Ambassador Kirkpatrick was unable to participate in that, she and I were originally supposed to be a tag team, and she was unable to come for logistical reasons.
But my view was that the sequencing was not that critical and that the vote, an overwhelming 77-23 in the Senate and a very heavy vote in the House, sent a very strong and very positive signal to the world, and I hope to Baghdad, that the United States is essentially united and the President now has authority to act.
MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Kirkpatrick, just briefly before we go, having invested this much at the U.N., can the administration now afford to essentially go without U.N. backing?
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: Well, if it must. But it obviously would be very undesirable and the president obviously does not desire to do that, and will work to avoid doing that.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I think it’s very unlikely, Jeane.
MARGARET WARNER: Unlikely that the U.N. will fail to act or that the U.S. would act if it did fail to act?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: No. Let me be very clear. I think it’s unlikely that we will have to act without the U.N. because the U.N., I believe, will, and let’s be clear again, we’re talking about Russia and France, I think the Security Council and the administration will reach an acceptable agreement.
But to go to your core question, which is absolutely critical, supposing that’s wrong, and supposing Jeane and I mispredict and we can’t get something acceptable. The administration and some of its allies including Great Britain and I believe Turkey and some of the Gulf states, will form a coalition anyway, and act under the simple fact that Saddam Hussein has violated 16 existing Security Council resolutions and is truly already an international outlaw. And to go back to the simple point, the Security Council resolution is desirable but not essential, it was essential to make the effort.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And it’s essential we have to end this now. But thank you both very much.