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Last Updated:  Saturday, 22 February, 2003, 00:32 GMT
UN set-backs for US

By Jon Leyne
BBC Washington correspondent

The official line from Washington, repeated almost ad nauseam, is that the United States does not need another United Nations resolution before starting a war with Iraq.

Nevertheless, the Bush administration is putting enormous effort and prestige into the diplomatic negotiations. And so far it is not going well.

After days of talking up the prospects for a resolution, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, finally admitted, in a BBC interview on Thursday, it was unlikely even to be unveiled before next week.

US President George Bush
Bush needs the UN resolution more than he lets on
So far only four of the 15 Security Council members are definitely in favour - the US, UK, Spain and Bulgaria.

In the other camp, France, Russia, China and Germany (not to mention Syria) are adamantly against.

So the US and UK are working on a two-pronged approach.

For one thing, the draft resolution is likely to be extremely bland. Almost certainly it will not contain explicit authorisation for the use of force.

The White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said it would be a "relatively simple resolution, not very lengthy".

Mr Powell told the BBC: "It will be a resolution that summarises the situation as it exists."

One commentator joked that it would be an "earth is round" resolution - state the obvious, defy anyone to disagree, then if it is passed, hold it up as the elusive "second resolution".

Scrambling for support

The other tactic is to outflank the opponents, by winning enough votes from the non-permanent members of the council - then challenge France, Russia or China to veto.

Certainly there is much loose talk around of wielding a veto.

The trouble is, abandoning the UN would put US allies in a very difficult position
France has not vetoed a US-led resolution in decades. Russia and China would be extremely reluctant to risk their new found friendship with the US (China almost never vetoes, except on issues that directly concern it).

But any resolution also needs nine positive votes from the 15 members of the Council, and so far the minnows of the Council are not biting the US hook.

Only this week the leaders of three council members, Guinea, Cameroon and Angola, were in Paris endorsing the French policy towards Iraq.

So there is an unseemly scramble for the support of countries that usually do not get a mention on the international stage - Chile and Mexico among others.

Several of the elected members of the Security Council have likened this to a row between their parents - a dispute in which they do not think they should have to take sides.

The final option is for President Bush to carry out his threat to attack without another UN vote.

That is something he threatens almost every day, for example on Tuesday:

"A second resolution would be useful. We don't need a second resolution," he said.

"It's clear this guy [Saddam Hussein] could even care less about the first resolution; he's in total defiance of 1441. But we want to work with our friends and allies to see if we can get a second resolution. That's what we're doing right now."

The trouble is, abandoning the UN would put US allies in a very difficult position.

The UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is depending on a new resolution to defuse opposition at home.

The nightmare scenario for Washington would be if the UK Government withdrew its so far unwavering support following a debacle in the Security Council.

That could have a devastating impact on backing for Mr Bush's policy both in the US and around the world.

So despite the president's repeated protestations, he really needs this new UN resolution. The negotiations continue.

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