Canadian Plan Gaining Support
Debate Rancorous at United Nations
Ottawa Bureau | Toronto Star
Friday 28 February 2003
MEXICO CITY - Prime Minister Jean Chr tien has delivered a strong warning that an American-led war against Iraq without United Nations approval will damage the only organization that is a counterweight to the world's sole superpower.
During a question-and-answer session with university faculty and students here yesterday, Chr tien was asked, "Will the U.N. survive the Iraq crisis?"
"I hope so," he replied. "And it's not only to avoid a war that's a very high priority but we have to think of consequences if there is a war outside of the U.N. We live in a very different world today. We have only one supernation in the world, superpower, and the United Nations are needed more than ever."
While Chr tien was making his comments, a Canadian proposal to bridge the gap between the United States and Britain on one hand and France, China and Russia on the other was gaining some support at the U.N. Security Council.
For the first time, the 15 members of the Security Council discussed an American resolution that could lead to military action against Iraq in two weeks. They also discussed a "memo" circulated by the French government that would give U.N. weapons inspectors at least four more months to work in Iraq.
But the two sides are so entrenched that there was little discussion of the merits of the proposals.
The ambassadors could not even agree on a date for the next oral report by chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix. It will be either March 6 or 7.
But after a rancorous closed-door meeting, several ambassadors spoke to the media. Each was asked about the Canadian proposal to give Iraqi President Saddam Hussein until March 28 to disarm or face military force.
Chilean Ambassador Gabriel Valdes, supported by Mexico and Bulgaria, said the Canadian proposal could break the deadlock between the two sides.
"We need a convergence of wills," Valdes said. "There are five countries that are today permanent members of the Security Council with the right of veto and we urge them to live up to their responsibilities to lay the groundwork for an agreement."
Bulgaria's Ambassador Stefan Tafrov, considered to be in the U.S. camp, said the Canadian and Chilean ideas were not "far from our thinking. It is all about whether this will be the middle ground or whether the middle ground is possible at all."
The five permanent members of the Security Council are the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China. Each holds a veto over any vote. The other 10 members are elected for two-year terms. Canada does not currently hold a seat.
Chr tien, meanwhile, said in Mexico City that he was happy the Americans are still pursuing Iraqi disarmament through the Security Council, adding: "We have to work together so that whatever happens is done under the umbrella of the U.N. If it were not to be like that, I think the U.N. would receive a very bad blow that will cause problems for years to come."
Chr tien, in Mexico on a state visit, said a lot is now riding on the smaller nations like Mexico, which is one of the 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council, because the five big permanent members "seem to be divided 3-2."
The remarks represented a stark admission by Chr tien that the American determination to press ahead at the U.N. with its own resolution, unamended, is a real threat to global stability.
"The Prime Minister is worried about this," a Canadian official said later.
There are "real dangers for the future of multilateralism and especially for the U.N." if the Security Council cannot arrive at a decision, or reaches an ambiguous one, prompting a frustrated coalition of Americans and British to go ahead without the blessing of the United Nations, he added.
Chr tien also warned that Iraq is only part of a greater Middle East "preoccupation in the world. It's not only Iraq there, you have the problem of Israel and Palestine that has to be resolved because it might be one of the elements, probably the biggest element that create conflict at this moment."
Still, several times yesterday, Chr tien said a decision on Iraq must come "within weeks, not months," saying the goal to disarm Iraq must be met.
And he praised the U.S. and British governments for amassing troops near the Iraq border and exerting concrete pressure on Saddam.
"We have to be grateful for that because it's very costly for them to do it," the Prime Minister said. "And probably if there is no war and if there is disarmament it's because they have put the maximum pressure on them."
Chr tien suggested, "The Third World War was won by the Americans ~W the Cold War ~W without a gun. So you can win without shooting. That's the best situation."
Yesterday, Chr tien's efforts to help broker a compromise at the U.N. appeared to get another boost.
The Canadian proposal won the backing of Chile's leader, Ricardo Lagos, in addition to qualified support from Mexican President Vicente Fox.
"President Lagos says we need objectives, it's indispensable, and like it or not, we need a deadline," one Canadian official said. "He doesn't say it has to be our deadline."
On the other hand, Mexico is less comfortable with Canada's suggested end-of-March deadline, but Fox praised the Canadian proposal as a way to measure Iraq's commitment to disarmament that is "truly interesting."
"What I like is that it contains very concrete ideas about what Iraq and Saddam Hussein have to do to comply. It aims to resolve things step by step," Fox told reporters at a joint news conference with Chr tien.
Both Chile and Mexico are non-permanent members of the Security Council, whose votes suddenly become key to breaking the impasse.
Chr tien rejected any suggestion there were risks for Canada and Mexico in failing to wholeheartedly support their largest trading partner, the United States.
"There is no great risk working for peace in my opinion."
And despite a flurry of diplomatic visits from American officials, and a telephone call from U.S. President George W. Bush last week, Fox explicitly denied feeling pressure, or having made up his mind to back the United States.
"There is absolutely no pressure (on Mexico) from the U.S. government or President Bush or any member of his team to accept a resolution or change our position," Fox said.
The Canadian compromise proposal was officially released in Ottawa yesterday two days after the opposition parties demanded that it be made public.
In the House of Commons yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham said the proposal "made some practical suggestions.
"Various members of the council will factor those into their account when they are deciding how they intend to vote" on Iraq, he said.
The two-page document acknowledges that both sides have a point in the debate over how to deal with Iraq, and that the focus should move away from process and focus on concrete disarmament actions.
The document said "Iraq should be left in no doubt exactly what is demanded of them on substance, not just on process, i.e., no wiggle room."
Canada suggests that a deadline like March 28 be set for Iraq to demonstrate "substantial co-operation" with U.N. inspectors.
"If the March 28 inspection report indicates that the Iraqis have not complied, all necessary means of support could be used to force them to disarm."
In another development yesterday, the federal government said it was pulling non-essential diplomatic staff out of Saudi Arabia and advised Canadians to avoid the country and to also stay away from Bahrain.
In a statement, the foreign affairs department said the decision had been taken because of "the heightened tensions as a result of the Iraq situation, together with increased threats globally from terrorism."
It also advised those Canadians still in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to consider whether they should leave.
Earlier this month, Canada pulled out some diplomats from Israel, the West Bank, Jordan and Syria and told Canadians to quit Kuwait.
With files from Les Whittington and Star wire services
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)