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Interview with Helmut Sonnenfeldt - 2003-02-27


MR. BORGIDA:
To discuss the situation regarding Iraq further, we're joined now by Helmut Sonnenfeldt at Washington's Brookings Institution. Mr. Sonnenfeldt was a staff member of the National Security Council during the Nixon administration. Sir, thanks so much for joining us.

MR. SONNENFELDT:
Nice to be with you.

MR. BORGIDA:
At the Security Council, President Bush is framing this debate there as a question in some ways over its relevance. What do you think about that kind of a discussion?

MR. SONNENFELDT:
Well, it is a problem when the Security Council adopts unanimously a significant resolution, 1441, back in November, and nothing really has happened except some minor manipulations by the Iraqis. And then, when the clock ticks on and time is close to call a spade a spade -- namely, that they remain in violation -- opposition develops for whatever reason, you have to wonder how relevant the Security Council is, at least in this situation, or potentially in other situations.

MR. BORGIDA:
Mr. Sonnenfeldt, there have been reports of rifts between the United States and Britain and the older European countries, so labeled by Secretary Rumsfeld, France, Germany and so on. What do you see developing here in the days and weeks ahead? Is there fear that there will be a wider rift between these two factions?

MR. SONNENFELDT:
It is possible. I think with the British, this is a huge domestic issue for Prime Minister Blair. And it's one of the reasons why the U.S., which had been rather skeptical about a so-called second resolution in the Security Council, agreed to have one. Because Blair seems to feel he needs it with his political base. But as best as I can tell from today's debate in the House of Commons, the U.S. and the British are pretty much on the same wavelength.

But I think if that resolution turns out not to get the necessary votes or is withdrawn, that is going to increase the split between the U.S. and some of its allies and the other permanent members greater than it has already been. And one has to wonder what these people really have in mind beyond simply trying to stop the U.S. from undertaking military action against Iraq. And that I think could produce a pretty serious split, at least about the use of the Security Council.

MR. BORGIDA:
Mr. Sonnenfeldt, you have worked as a member of a U.S. administration and certainly have been watching others since then. And I wonder if you could give us a sense, a flavor if you will, of the kinds of conversations that are going on behind the scenes between diplomats of the United States and Britain and those who are opposing any effort to disarm Saddam Hussein militarily. Is there a lot of what we might call arm-twisting going on? Are there issues about aid and so forth? Can you give us a flavor of that?

MR. SONNENFELDT:
My guess is that -- and a lot of it gets reported, because American diplomats are traveling and European diplomats are traveling, our political leaders are traveling. We've had a Russian very senior figure from Putin's entourage here in Washington, without much press attention. So, there is a whole lot of telephoning and traveling around. And I think probably, on the U.S. side, the Americans are cautioning others that they may find themselves in a situation where they need a Security Council majority themselves some day in the future and that this game that is being played here, which basically makes the Security Council impotent, is an unwise game.

If there are any inducements held out -- we know that the Russians have talked about getting the debt that Iraq owes them from the Soviet period and also some of the contracts regarding oil in Iraq, that they want assurances on that score. But whether that is enough for the Russians to at least abstain on this vote, I don't know. So, I think there probably is some talk about rewards or, on the other hand, some punitive counteraction.

I think, however, at the moment, the U.S. and the British are trying to make serious arguments rather than bargaining with chips of some sort in some sort of poker game.

MR. BORGIDA:
The views of Helmut Sonnenfeldt, over at the Brookings Institution, not far from our studios here in Washington. Mr. Sonnenfeldt, thanks so much for joining us today. We appreciate it.

MR. SONNENFELDT:
Thank you.

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