State Department Plans That Will Harm Iraq

Joel Mowbray

9/15/2003 12:00:00 AM - Joel Mowbray

The State Department is already making plans to “water down” the United Nations resolution calling for UN involvement in Iraq, according to several administration officials. 

  The exact form of potential changes is not entirely clear, but they will likely comport with requests from Security Council members, particularly Russia and France.  Notes one administration official, “They (State’s top leadership) are really going to be pushing for a unanimous vote.”

  State was no doubt pleased by President Bush’s recent comment that he is “open for suggestions” from other nations on the Security Council.  Many at State view the resolution as an opportunity to score points with countries like France, Germany, and Russia.  And although State probably does not want to do any favors for Syria, a concerted push for a unanimous vote could also entail just that.

  While always a feather in the cap, a unanimous vote is not necessary for passage of the latest measure.  At this point, passage is almost a forgone conclusion.  Only five nations have the power to veto a Security Council resolution: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China.  The UK obviously would not block a US-sponsored measure—and Russia, China, and France have all signaled through back channels that they will not veto the UN resolution, according to an administration official.

  The clear path to passage should come somewhat as a surprise, considering that many hawks inside the administration find the current text at least tolerable.  Strangest of all is probably France’s quiet agreement not to veto shortly after making very public noises about a possible veto.

  Yet France’s willingness to let the UN resolution go through—which could mean France staying neutral—does not seem to have curbed State’s desire to modify the existing language.  And the President’s apparent willingness to “compromise”—his word—means that the final product could come out bearing only moderate resemblance to the initial text.  According to those who have worked on the resolution, possible changes could include giving the UN more-defined roles in civilian administration, dictating the terms of how oil revenues can be used, and even placing a time limit on the military presence in Iraq.

  The first taste of what could be in store should happen this weekend, when Secretary of State Colin Powell travels to Geneva, Switzerland to meet with representatives from France, Britain, Russia, and China.  The State Department’s official line is that only concepts will be discussed, and that there will be no negotiations on details of the resolution. 

  While the gathering of representatives of the five permanent Security Council members will probably not be a bargaining session, it will be the first place where Powell indicates to his counterparts in private how tough the U.S. will be at the actual negotiating table.  With some in the administration seeking to have a final deal sealed by the time the President addresses the UN on September 23, discussions of the details likely will come right on the heels of the Geneva meeting.

  On the plus side, likely to stay put is the one mild paragraph that defines the U.S. as the leader of the “unified” military force; no other country has an incentive for anyone besides the US in a position to shoulder the blame for military failures.

  One of the most likely deals to be struck will not probably not appear anywhere in the final resolution.  France and Russia—two countries that sided with Saddam before the war—want in on the big-dollar contracts in Iraq.  Although the American companies with the large contracts are already subcontracting to foreign firms, France and Russia are pushing for explicit assurances that their companies will get a cut of the action.

  With the UN resolution moving forward at a fairly brisk pace, the State Department has two options: 1) taking advantage of “no veto” pledges from the other Security Council members to push through a resolution almost identical to the initial text, or 2) attempting to win brownie points from countries who opposed liberation of the Iraqi people in the course of securing a needless unanimous vote.  Unfortunately for the Iraqi people, the State Department seems prepared to take the latter path.