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Sunday, 16 February, 2003, 02:50 GMT
Analysis: Vive la UN difference
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin
Villepin's speech soared to the rafters

Napoleon once famously called Britain a "nation of grocers".

Like all good insults, it contains a kernel of truth.

Lady Thatcher was always proud of being a grocer's daughter.

Anglo-Saxons have tended to have a pennies and cents, grocer's view of the world and how it should work and the Americans have inherited this.

At the UN on Friday, US Secretary of State Colin Powell and UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's speeches were full of practicalities.

Were the inspectors being bugged? How many Iraqi minders did they have? Did Saddam's order banning weapons of mass destruction mean anything in practice?

Rare applause

The French speech, on the other hand, soared up into the rafters of the Security Council chamber.

Dick Cheney
Cheney advised against using the UN
This was high diplomacy at its most elegant.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin talked about these hallowed halls and La France's love of Peace.

It earned a rare round of applause from the congregation of diplomats and journalists.

But as far as the US and British delegations were concerned, Monsieur de Villepin's words were completely beside the point.

It did not address the fundamental question of whether Saddam Hussein is or isn't cooperating with the substance of UN resolutions by disarming voluntarily.

And there is the rub.

Different agendas

The two sides in this crisis are basically talking at cross purposes.

Anti-war demonstration
Waiting for war won't make Bush's position easier
The US and UK want to wrestle these chemical weapons out of Saddam's grasp.

The French are obsessed with America as a superpower and whether it has a right to go to war.

Back in Washington, all Friday's proceedings are likely to do is to make most people in the White House think that cunning old fox Dick Cheney, the vice-president, was right all along.

Last summer Mr Cheney urged his boss not to go down the UN route, saying that it led only into a diplomatic bog from which no good could come.

George W Bush decided to listen instead to Colin Powell and give the UN "one last chance".

Now I bet he wishes he hadn't.

Living in hope

After Friday's meeting, British officials tried to put a brave face on it.

Colin Powell
How much longer will Colin Powell have Bush's ear?
But they freely accepted that they did not have the nine votes needed to pass a second resolution at the Security Council.

One official told me that he thought positions would change once a second resolution was on the table and the negotiating started in earnest.

But it felt more like a hope than a prediction.

If the White House sees opinion polls continue to slide at home, it may conclude it is better to attack sooner rather than later since nothing will be gained by delaying.

The most telling comment came from a diplomat close to the American camp who said that he thought the US would give this UN process two more weeks.

He couldn't see them being able to stomach French expostulations on the meaning of freedom any longer than that.

 VOTE RESULTS
Should UN inspectors be given more time?

Yes
 66.07% 

No
 33.90% 

30577 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


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See also:

14 Feb 03 | Middle East
14 Feb 03 | Europe
14 Feb 03 | Politics
14 Feb 03 | Middle East
14 Feb 03 | Middle East
13 Feb 03 | Middle East
14 Feb 03 | Asia-Pacific
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