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Iraq Special Report

  On Security Council, Mixed Views

By John M. Goshko
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 17, 1998; Page A30

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 16 – Representatives of many of the 15 members of the Security Council expressed disagreement and regret tonight over the decision of the United States and Britain to bomb Iraq without first seeking council approval. But they also said bluntly that Iraq bore responsibility for the situation because of its refusal to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspections.

The only exceptions were Russia and China, two permanent council members that advocate a friendlier line toward Iraq, including an end to economic sanctions. Both bitterly criticized the U.S. and British actions as what Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov called "gross violations of the rule of law." Both countries characterized the chief weapons inspector, Richard Butler, as an irresponsible and unprincipled man who had abused his authority.

The views of council members were expressed at a formal meeting late tonight at which an unspoken but clear theme was the United Nations's failure, despite seven years of trying, to make President Saddam Hussein give up his weapons of mass destruction.

A sense of inevitability about the U.S.-British strikes has been palpable here since Tuesday night when Butler, executive chairman of the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) charged with eliminating the prohibited weapons, reported that despite Baghdad's promises last month to cooperate, the Iraqis have continued to block UNSCOM's efforts.

Since Nov. 14, when Iraq made those promises, there has been a sense here that the United States and Britain would act if Iraq broke its word again. And it also has been assumed that Washington and London – aware that Iraq's supporters on the council would block permission for military action – would ignore the council and act on their own.

That was the context in which delegates from the council countries gathered tonight to hear Iraqi Ambassador Nizar Hamdoon call for redress "as the bombs are falling on innocent people in my country."

He was followed by Lavrov, who called the bombing "an unprovoked act of force" that violated the U.N. charter's rules, which, Lavrov contended, reserve for the council the sole power for deciding when force can be used in the name of peace. Citing what he called Butler's "irresponsible acts," Lavrov echoed Hamdoon's contention that the chairman is biased toward American views. Butler, Lavrov said, had manipulated his report to give a false impression, had leaked it without authorization to the media and generally "had abused his powers."

Chinese Ambassador Qin Huasun charged that the United States and Britain had "violated the U.N. charter and the norms governing international law."

"The leader of UNSCOM has played a dishonorable role in this crisis" by conspiring to provide the United States and Britain with a pretext for their attacks, he said.

However, other ambassadors took a far more moderate tone toward the U.S. and British actions. While several said they could not agree with the U.S. contention that authority for the raids exists in earlier council resolutions, they were almost unanimous in agreeing that Iraq had precipitated the raids through its long and persistent refusal to cooperate.

Costa Rican Ambassador Bernd Niehaus said he has observed for two years, "with increasing disquiet," Iraq's defiant course. Swedish Ambassador Hans Dahlgren went further, saying: "It is not difficult to say who is to blame here. It is the government of Iraq which again and again has refused to comply."

Notably, French Ambassador Alain Dejammet, whose government until recently had been allied closely with Russia and China in the move to lift sanctions, merely read a statement from the French foreign ministry deploring the violence and expressing regret at Iraq's attitude. He limited further remarks to praising Secretary General Kofi Annan for his past efforts to resolve the Iraqi situation peacefully.

Acting U.S. Ambassador A. Peter Burleigh and British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock repeated the explanations made earlier in the day by senior officials of their respective governments. As Burleigh put it, "This resort to military force was undertaken only when it became evident that diplomacy had been exhausted."


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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