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Disputes Over Disarming Iraq Cause Sharp Divisions Among Old Friends - 2003-03-13

Debate at the United Nations over disarming Iraq has sparked sharp words among once-friendly diplomats.

The usual diplomatic niceties have been cast aside in the debate over what to do about Iraqi disarmament. Sharp exchanges have occurred between France and the United States, and France and Britain. And in these days of 24-hour news and global communications, the latest diplomatic shot is conveyed instantly.

The United States wants an almost immediate deadline for Iraq to comply with disarmament demands, or face military action. But the other bloc in the 15-member U.N. Security Council, led by France, wants to give Iraq more time to comply. France and Russia have threatened to invoke their veto power in the council to scuttle passage of a new resolution.

One senior U.N. official, who asked not to be named, told VOA both sides have painted themselves into a corner, making compromise extremely difficult and debate very bitter.

Longtime U.N. observers say they have not heard such acrimony in diplomatic circles since the days of the Cold War.

As former U.N. official James Sutterlin says, the current debate is very different than the East-West diplomatic clashes of the past.

"Well, what's different is that this is acrimonious between friends," Mr. Sutterlin said. "There have been equally acrimonious debates in the past during the Cold War. But they were always between the East and the West, the Soviet Union and the United States or the UK. And the Western democracies were almost always unified, and not fighting with each other."

There are concerns about how long it will take for the wounds opened by the Iraq crisis to heal. On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan made an appeal for an end to the bitterness over the issue between world capitals.

"Regardless of how this crisis or the current issue is resolved, the Council will have to work together, and the member states will have to work together to deal with the situation in Iraq and the Middle East and on many other issues," Mr. Annan said. "And therefore the divisions which have appeared, some of it is normal in democratic parliamentary processes, should not be long divisions which will prevent the Council from tackling the major issues ahead."

Mr. Sutterlin, who is a lecturer at Yale University and co-author of a recent book on the U.N and Iraq, says that even if the Security Council is unable to agree now, it will still need to come together to help rebuild Iraq after the fighting stops.

"Once the war is over, the Council is going to have to authorize further action by the United Nations to help in the rebuilding of Iraq and the democratization process," he said. "So I think the Council will continue to be questionable in its effectiveness. That's always been the case. But it will always be needed."

Mr. Sutterlin says that the Security Council is totally ineffective without unity among the five permanent members: France, the United States, Russia, China, and Britain.