IRAQ SPECIAL: Bush team used 3-point plan for UN support on Iraq
By Bill Sammon
Two months of intensive diplomatic consultations finally culminated when Powell received a phone call from Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who said two words “OK, yes.”
President Bush’s quest for an international resolution against Iraq began with a sweeping speech to the United Nations and ended with hairsplitting negotiations over words such as “and” and “or.”
Two months of intensive diplomatic consultations finally culminated when Secretary of State Colin L. Powell received a phone call from Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who said two words the administration longed to hear “khorosho, da,” which is Russian for “OK, yes.”
Less than two hours later, Mr. Powell walked into the Rose Garden with the president, who announced what had seemed impossible just days earlier — all 15 members of the UN Security Council, including Syria, had voted for a tough new resolution against Iraq.
Mr. Bush made a point of publicly thanking Mr. Powell for working “tirelessly and successfully” on the difficult task of lining up support from the various nations. But it was the president himself who first made the decision to marshal international opinion against Saddam Hussein.
“This all really flows from a strategic decision the president made sometime ago,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“And over the course of the summer, but especially through August, in consultations with his national security team, the president made a judgment that since this was an affront not just to the United States, but to the international community, we should take the problem to the international community.”
Mr. Bush did so on Sept. 12, when he appeared before the UN General Assembly to shame them into standing up to Saddam Hussein or risk becoming as irrelevant as the old League of Nations.
“There were three elements, really, in that speech, and those three elements drove all of the negotiations that we have been involved in for the past seven weeks,” said a second administration official. Those elements amounted to a detailed indictment of Saddam, a demand for compliance with existing UN resolutions and the threat of war if Baghdad balked.
Mr. Bush exhorted diplomats to come up with a strong resolution within “weeks, not months,” leaving next Tuesday as an unofficial deadline. For the next seven weeks, Mr. Powell and John Negroponte, the US ambassador to the United Nations, led a team of diplomats who fanned out to enlist allies.
“We slowly but surely adjusted our position in accordance with what we heard from others,” one official said. “The president instructed us to work with the others, never moving away from our principles, never moving away from these three elements, but at the same time trying to accommodate the views of others.
“This at some times became an excruciatingly difficult task, as we first put the British into the basket with us, and then slowly all of the others.” Among the five permanent members of the Security Council, Russia and France threw up the most obstacles. For weeks, France insisted on two weaker resolutions instead of a single strong one.
Although the French eventually acquiesced, a number of stumbling blocks remained. For example, the French insisted that only the Security Council could determine whether Iraq was in “material breach” of the resolution.
The Americans objected, insisting that “material breach” would be self-evident if Iraq violated the resolution. Last Saturday, the French finally agreed, although obstacles remained.
Mr. Powell got the word just before he turned off his cell phone so that he could walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding.
By Wednesday, the US team had hammered out language for a final resolution and pushed for a vote by all 15 members of the Security Council. But only a dozen were on board, with France, Russia and Syria still holding out.
“By then, we were reasonably sure we had the votes for it in order to pass it,” an official said. “But we were interested in getting as many votes as we could for the resolution, and trying to get all of the permanent members not only to not veto it, but also not to abstain, to be for it.” Negotiations intensified Thursday afternoon. Mr. Bush spoke with French President Jacques Chirac after Mr. Powell leaned on French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.
“We solved the last outstanding problem with respect to French concerns,” an official said.
But the Russians were still playing hard to get.
So Mr. Bush telephoned Russian President Vladimir Putin for a final round of arm-twisting. Mr. Powell followed up with a call to Mr. Ivanov to report that the Americans had agreed to French demands to change two words in the resolution.
The word “and” was substituted for the word “or” in one spot. And the word “secure” was substituted for the word “restore.”
“That made all the difference,” one source said of Mr. Ivanov. “He considered that to be a breakthrough that he wanted to take to President Putin right away.”
Yesterday morning, just before the UN vote, Mr. Ivanov called Mr. Powell to pledge Russia’s support. That left Syria as the sole holdout, prompting a full-court press by the Americans.
“And then, just as Ambassador Negroponte was going into the council chamber, we still were not sure about the Syrian vote,” one official said. “But he got word at that point we had the Syrian vote. And that was 15-0.” —The Washington Times