Many Interlocking Issues Affect Support for Strike on Iraq
By Thomas W. Lippman
Issues as varied as the future of the Middle East peace process and President Clinton's desire for expanded trade negotiating authority are parts of the equation as the administration calculates how to proceed against Iraq, the officials say.
As a result, Clinton's foreign policy team, after a relatively tranquil 1997, is going through one of the most testing periods of the president's second term, senior officials and independent analysts said. While not as trying as the foreign policy disarray of 1993, when a new administration was buffeted by crises in Somalia and Bosnia, the impasses in the Middle East and Persian Gulf especially are forcing senior officials into stressful choices.
"These issues are messy in themselves, and the linkages, real or perceived, make them even harder," one senior official said. He and others said that each of several key decisions that must be made soon carries the potential for serious negative consequences somewhere else.
For example, the administration must decide soon whether a major investment by French and Russian oil companies in an offshore natural gas development in Iran should be subject to economic sanctions under U.S. law. The legal answer is almost certainly yes, analysts said, but a decision to impose sanctions now would further strain relations with Russia and France, permanent members of the U.N. Security Council that oppose the use of force in Iraq.
Clinton has a substantial political investment in developing an amicable relationship with Russia, and has encouraged the development of the Russian economy, both goals that could be set back by sanctions against Gazprom, the energy conglomerate that is Russia's largest company.
In addition, European diplomats have told the administration in strong language that if the United States pursues sanctions against the French oil firm Total, the European Union will reactivate a World Trade Organization challenge not just to the law requiring sanctions over investment in Iran but also to imposing U.S. economic sanctions on some foreign firms that invest in Cuba.
A successful challenge to U.S. law in the World Trade Organization would be seen in Congress as a threat to U.S. sovereignty, several analysts said, and would probably doom any new administration request for expanded trade negotiating authority.
"Obviously the United States has to do what it has to do under its law," a European diplomat said. "But sanctions would make it much more difficult [to win European support] in Iraq. Sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing."
A senior administration official yesterday denied reports of a specific, negotiated linkage between the Iran sanctions question and Iraq in which the United States would forgo sanctions in exchange for backing of the use of force. Each issue will be decided on its merits, the official said.
The stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations has reached the point that some administration officials say the United States is running out of ideas about how to re-energize the so-called Oslo peace process. But pressure on either side for movement could influence support for U.S. policy on Iraq.
In the Arab world, a U.S. failure to push Israel into further troop withdrawals from the West Bank would be perceived as capitulation to what Arabs portray as the intransigence of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Arabs already unhappy about the prospect of a massive U.S. aerial bombardment of another Arab country, Iraq, would view an easing of U.S. pressure on Israel as a pretext for refusing to support Washington on Iraq, several analysts said.
But Israel has strong support in Congress, where many members blame the Palestinians for the impasse in the peace process. Some members are already questioning the wisdom of putting additional pressure on Israel to give up territory when Israel faces the possibility that Iraq will fire Scud missiles into its territory, as it did in 1991.
Another major factor in the Iraq equation is relations with Turkey, a senior official said. Turkey, a NATO ally, opposes the use of force against Iraq and has made no secret of its desire to see Baghdad's iron-fisted control restored in the Kurdish regions of Northern Iraq to stop incursions of Kurdish rebels into Turkey. Turkey is strongly opposed to any action that contributes to a breakup of Iraq and encourages Kurdish aspirations for an independent country.
Washington, meanwhile, wants Turkish cooperation in enlarging NATO and in seeking a solution to the long-standing division of Cyprus.
"You can't allow yourself to be driven to paralysis," a senior official said of these interlocking considerations. "But you have to go through that region of the world thinking of alliances and coalitions, because if you don't you become the target of of coalitions that form against you. The purveyor of orthodoxy inspires heresy."
"There is no question there are a series of issues out there -- on Iraq, on how best to pursue the Middle East peace process, on Iran and the question of sanctionability -- that are sensitive issues coming to a head very soon," State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said. "Secretary [of State Madeleine K.] Albright is quite aware of that."
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