News Analysis: Divisions at the UN still strong as ever

Posted in Iraq , UN , Broader Middle East , Asia | 25-Sep-03 | Author: Steven Weisman| Source: The New York Times

UNITED NATIONS, New York - On a dramatic day in which President George W. Bush and other world leaders came together for the first time in a year to try to put bitter differences over the war in Iraq behind them, most of what they said underscored how deep their divisions remained.

At the center of the divide was Bush's unapologetic defense of the war, which was met by an equally unapologetic attack by President Jacques Chirac, who declared that the United States had waged the war without United Nations authorization, throwing the international system into crisis.

In another example, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan used his keynote speech at the General Assembly to deplore the administration doctrine of pre-emptive action epitomized by the Iraqi war.

Yet Bush defiantly defended that doctrine, saying that "nations of the world must have the wisdom and the will to stop grave threats before they arrive."

All these divisions continue to cast a shadow over the future, raising questions about whether the United States can resolve its deadlock with France and other countries over the future governance of Iraq any time soon.

Increasingly, American officials acknowledge that compromising with France looks more unattractive than ever, since making concessions to France and getting its support is not likely to bring a payoff in terms of billions of dollars and significant numbers of troops from other countries to help secure and rebuild the country.

As a result, the American quest for a new Security Council resolution to expand UN authority in Baghdad has lost momentum, American, European and United Nations diplomats say.

Only a month ago, the Bush administration spoke of acting quickly following the bombing that killed 22 people at the UN headquarters in Baghdad to get a new Security Council resolution on Iraq.

But now the administration is backpedaling in the face of French demands backed by some of the members of the Iraqi Governing Council who were handpicked by the Americans for a faster timetable to self-rule.

This week Secretary of State Colin Powell said that there was not "any particular sense of urgency" to getting a resolution while all the leaders of the United Nations were in New York to try to bridge their differences. He and other administration officials insisted that going too fast to give authority to Iraqis would undermine the legitimacy of any new government.

The effort to get more money and troops is also lagging. Of the billions desired by the United States for 2004 from other countries, some officials say that Bush will be lucky to get $1 billion.

The Defense Department wants a multilateral division so that it can rotate an American division out of Iraq in February or March. But myriad difficulties have cropped up in getting India, Pakistan, Turk Bangladesh and South Korea to contribute.

India, Powell said this week, now faces what appear to be insurmountable political forces at home standing in the way of sending troops, even though India had originally signaled its willingness to do so.

Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, said this week that political forces at home make sending troops difficult as well, unless there is a Security Council resolution and some sort of endorsement from an Islamic group, whether regional to the Middle East or within Iraq.

Turkey has said it is willing to send troops, though Kurdish members of the Iraqi Governing Council oppose the introduction of significant troops from a longtime enemy.

South Korea is examining the situation, but American officials note that their forces are otherwise engaged in facing a powerful enemy to the north.

Still, American officials are working especially with the Germans and the Russians this week to try to broker a compromise on a new resolution that would get support from the French, who have said that they will not veto unless they find the measure inordinately objectionable.

The main grounds for compromise appear to lie in the possibility of some kind of fixed timetable for the transition to self-rule.

Americans said they were cheered by Chirac's endorsement of what he said was a "realistic timetable," words that to some ears left room for something taking place over time.

Powell said he thought the entire transition would have to take at least a year.

German diplomats said something that takes place in that time frame, but with key milestones along the way, could find favor in both Washington and Paris.