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Tuesday, 15 October, 2002, 21:00 GMT 22:00 UK
UN's open debate on Iraq
Iraqis waving the national flag
Finally the Iraq issue will be open to all member states

For almost a month now, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have been haggling over the wording, aims, and objectives of a new UN resolution designed to bring about the disarmament of Iraq's remaining weapons of mass destruction.


We, as UN member states, do have the right to have our views expressed before them, so they know how we feel

South African Ambassador, Dumisani Kumalo
It has, so far, been a very private debate, limited to the ambassadors of Russia, China, Britain, France and the United States.

And for much of the time even they have been relieved of any responsibility by their ministers, who have taken control of matters back in Moscow, Beijing, London, Paris and Washington.

The open debate on Iraq which starts on Wednesday will change all that.

Finally, the issue of what the UN should do about Iraq's failure to implement UN resolutions imposed at the end of the 1991 Gulf War will be opened to all 191 member states.

Frustration

Although normal business on the Security Council is limited to the five permanent and 10 non-permanent members, any UN member state can ask to take part in a public debate, and a large number are expected to grasp this opportunity to discuss Iraq.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell [r] with UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
Many member states are divided over the US-British stance

"We cannot dictate to the Security Council," says the South African Ambassador, Dumisani Kumalo, who lodged the request for a debate on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement.

"But we, as UN member states, do have the right to have our views expressed before them, so they know how we feel about this particular issue."

This view reflects growing levels of frustration among the general membership of the UN, that discussions about how the world body should respond to the Iraqi problem have been limited to the small but powerful clique of nations occupying the five permanent seats on the Security Council.

No 'green light'

Even the permanent five members cannot reach agreement on the shape of a new resolution.

Iraqi painter shows anti-US picture alongside one of Saddam Hussein
Most states are opposed giving the UN a green light to attack Iraq

They are still divided between the US and British position, which calls for a single tough resolution that carries a clear threat of force if Iraq fails to comply with its UN obligations, and the French position, which is supported by the Russians and the Chinese, calling for two resolutions.

The first would establish a strengthened mandate for UN weapons inspectors, and a second would authorise military intervention only if Baghdad again blocks or deceives the UN in its efforts to complete the task of disarming Iraq.

The public debate is unlikely to bring much cheer for the US or Britain.

While most UN member states agree that Iraq has tricked and defied the UN in the years since the end of the Gulf War, the vast majority are vehemently opposed to any outcome that would see the Security Council giving a green light to Washington to attack a sovereign state.

Passionate speeches

Although no draft resolution has been formally tabled, most UN member states have some idea of what Washington and London are proposing, having read the extensive leaks that have appeared in the international media over the past few weeks.

"From the elements we have read about in the media, it seems as if the UN is being asked to declare war on Iraq," says Mr Kumalo.

"If that's true, it contradicts the very first paragraph of the UN charter, which says we founded this organisation with the intention of saving successive generations from the scourge of war."

While the wider membership of the UN cannot vote on the Security Council, the permanent members are unlikely to be immune to the passionate speeches that they will hear from UN states during the course of this debate.

In Washington it might look like more hot air, but supporters of the UN will argue that talking is still far better than war.


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12 Oct 02 | Americas
13 Oct 02 | Middle East
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02 Oct 02 | Americas
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