The final means of persuasion...bribes


Even as President Bush issued the latest in a long series of ultimatums to the UN Security Council, the United States has been working on a series of possible drafts for a second resolution that would provide UN backing for a US-led invasion of Iraq.

Last week the US stepped up its policy of talking tough while carrying a big cheque book. Even as Bush told the council to ''make up its mind soon'' over military action, or the US would sidestep the UN and launch an attack with a coalition of allies, diplomats were promising everything from increased economic and military aid to moderate Arab states, to a share of Iraq's oil reserves to fretful Europeans.

Down at the UN, the Franco-American tango continued, but there was precious little talk about a French veto of a second resolution, a threat that had openly rebounded between Washington and Paris for several weeks.

French President Jacques Chirac, in phone conversations with Bush on Thursday and Friday, indicated that he wanted the weapons inspectors to continue their work, but it is understood that he left the door open to supporting an eventual war.

Even as the two heads of state inched closer to agreement, the twin-track politicking continued. The French ambassador to the US, Jean-David Levitte, told reporters here that there were '10 or 11' Security Council members in favour of giving the inspectors more time, while sources from the US delegation to the UN suggested they had an equal number who had indicated they would support a second resolution that would pave the way for war.

For a new Security Council resolution to be passed, nine votes need to be cast in favour and no veto can be used by a permanent member state. Apart from the five permanent members, the council is made up of 10 countries that serve on a rotating basis. Germany, which has come out strongly against military action, currently holds the presidency. Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico, Pakistan, Syria and Spain are the remaining non-permanent members. All have trade links or receive either military or economic aid from the US.

In the end, UN sources predict that self-interest will triumph. The French will get the concessions they are seeking -- namely a guarantee that the lucrative oil contracts negotiated with Saddam Hussein won't be used as toilet paper by American energy giants. The Russians and Chinese, who also have power of veto, will either abstain or vote with the Americans and British.

The general expectation appears to be that non-permanent members will come onside during the debate that is expected to follow Hans Blix's February 14 report. By then, Saddam may have granted more concessions to the inspectors, but the view here is that it is too late for anything short of a total climbdown by the Iraqi dictator. The US and Britain will insist that he has already breached Resolution 1441 and seek a resolution asserting this fact.

Meanwhile, Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei arrived in Baghdad yesterday in what now seems to be an increasingly futile attempt to force Saddam Hussein into compliance with Resolution 1441. Colin Powell's presentation at the UN on Wednesday was as devastating an indictment of the effectiveness of weapons inspectors as it was of Saddam. With Powell's presentation, the US tactic of dismissing and deriding the weapons inspectors as all but irrelevant, a tiresome piece of foreplay before the US can get on with the business of war, appears to have succeeded in persuading Americans that the inspectors have outlived their usefulness. But while this tactic may help achieve its goal in the short term, the long-term implications could backfire. The US will find it hard to persuade the American people that weapons inspections can work in a future situation -- in North Korea for example -- where it may not be so keen to invade.

The initial response from Security Council members to Powell's 90-minute show-and-tell was lukewarm. But UN diplomats say that the call by all states except Britain for the strengthening of the weapons inspectors' powers rather than a march on Baghdad is by no means cast in stone.

'All of the security council members came in with prepared texts. There was very little ad libbing and almost no direct response to what Powell had said,' a UN source observed.

'What will happen is over the next few weeks they will gradually move towards the US position in much the same way as they did before November 8 [the day the Security Council voted unanimously to adopt Resolution 1441]. It may be worded in such a way that it could be interpreted as another last chance resolution but it won't be treated as such by the Americans.'

Other sources suggested that the US will be spending like a lottery winner in the coming weeks to try to secure the support, or at least the non interference, of key Arab states. 'They will be writing some very large cheques in the region,' he said. 'They realise that gaining Arab support for this war is going to prove very costly.'

Indeed it emerged over the weekend that White House officials have been meeting secretly with Iranian leaders seeking guarantees that Tehran will not allow members of the National Guard to seek refuge in Iran or aid the Iraqis in any war against the US. It is understood that the US has offered Iran -- which Bush labelled a member of the 'axis of evil' a year ago -- generous offers of aid if it agrees not to hinder the American war effort.

White House and Department of State officials declined to comment, but a UN source said it is understood that the Iranians were 'receptive' to proposals put forward by US diplomats. Meanwhile, Egypt, keen to take advantage of the latest bout of US largesse in the region, is demanding additional aid, which it says is needed to defray the expected costs of a possible war and is also stepping up its appeals for a bi- lateral free-trade package. Egypt is one of the largest recipients of US military and economic aid in the region. But it is demanding that the US also factors in the cost of war on its tourism industry, which accounts for 15% of Egypt's gross national product, and that it increases the $1.3 billion (#812.5m) in military aid that has been proposed in this year's budget.

Other countries are also merrily making hay while the sun shines. A free- trade agreement between Jordan and the United States was recently ratified and the US has agreed to provide the moderate Arab state with a dozen F-16 fighter planes. Turkey is getting in on the act, demanding $14bn in aid in exchange for its support. Israel has demanded an additional $2bn in military aid. Buying off your friends, never mind your enemies, doesn't come cheap. But will it all prove to be little more than a costly sideshow that will do little to increase the security of the American people?

There is little doubt that Saddam would shed few tears at the prospect of another al-Qaeda strike on the US and would have good reason to take steps to ensure the group's survival, if only as a distraction, if not a practice of the old 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' theory. US foreign policy analysts and Democratic opponents have repeatedly argued that the US policy is almost tailor made to push al-Qaeda and Iraq into each other's arms.

Because, more than the hunt for al- Qaeda, or Bin Laden, or continuing the war on terrorism that was triggered by the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration is adamant about one thing: Saddam Hussein must be toppled. Bush insists that the Iraqi dictator cannot be inspected into disarmament, or compliance with any past, present or future UN resolutions. Iraq will form the centrepiece of a new US policy in the Middle East that will not be so dependent on the dubious loyalty of the Saudi Arabian royal family. As well as yielding vast oil reserves to American industry, it will become the testing ground for a US genetically engineered democracy that will prove friendly to US interests in the region.

Until now, it has not been the job of the UN to oust dictators on the pretext that they may or may not sell botulism-in-a-bag to al-Qaeda at some future unspecified date. But the axis of US foreign policy has been fundamentally altered by Bush and his administration to incorporate the doctrine of pre-emptive strikes, and it is determined that the UN and its rigid charter should bend to accommodate this seismic change in US foreign policy. The US has abandoned deterrence and containment for the right to selective pre-emptive strikes and it expects the UN to go along with this change or, in the words of Bush, Powell and more recently Britain's Foreign secretary Jack Straw, suffer its fate as a latter-day League of Nations.

'The League failed because it could not create action from its words ... At each stage good men said wait; the evil is not big enough to challenge: then before their eyes, the evil became too big to challenge,' Straw said ominously after Powell's multimedia extravaganza.

The US appears to expect no less than the UN should become a supine adjunct to the world's superpower, rubber-stamping its every foreign policy whim, while allowing it to opt out of inconvenient little treaties such as the International Criminal Court.

This is the new world order and it seems that the UN and its security council is powerless to stop it, mostly because ultimately the countries that make up the Security Council are, like the US, more concerned with their own self-interest than safeguarding the principles of international law.

Down at the UN there seems to be little doubt but that Bush will get his war.

'It's like Gulliver and the Lilliputans,' said one UN diplomat, who represents a security council member state.

'We can try to tie him down all we want but at the end of the day we know he can get up and walk all over us.'