In a move that was not unexpected, Russia lined up with France and China over the weekend in opposition to a draft UN resolution that threatens Iraq with "very severe consequences" should it violate the agreement brokered last week by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The resolution, drafted by Britain and backed by the United States and Japan, is expected to be voted on by the UN Security Council today or tomorrow.
Those countries opposed to the resolution want it to state clearly that the use of force against Baghdad cannot be automatic but must require approval by the Security Council. The United States and Britain, which are maintaining a large military force in the Persian Gulf, have threatened to launch air strikes against Iraq if authorities there fail to allow unrestricted and unfettered access by UN weapons inspectors to the so called presidential sites. While the United States and Britain have said they are willing to act unilaterally, they would prefer a resolution that both provides a firmer legal ground for the attacks and reflects broad international support for such an action.
In addition to threatening Iraq, the draft resolution endorses the memorandum of understanding reached last week by the UN Secretary General in his talks with Iraqi leaders. It also contains some inducements for Baghdad to honor the commitments that it made in signing the document. Annan’s agreement has won strong backing from Russia, France and China, but it has been greeted with some reservation by the Clinton administration. (AP, Reuter, February 27-28)
Some Republican lawmakers have criticized the agreement directly. Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said last week that the secretary general "gave away the store" in reaching the agreement with Iraq. (AP, February 27) House Speaker Newt Gingrich said yesterday that the Washington should veto any UN resolution that fails to provide for automatic attacks on Iraq if Baghdad reneges on its commitments. In a written statement he said that "We cannot allow France, Russia, or any other country to dilute our legitimate efforts in their cynical attempt to gain commercial or diplomatic advantage with the Iraqi regime. (Reuter, March 1)
Companies from both Russia and France have signed a number of lucrative business deals with Iraqi authorities, particularly in the energy sector. Those deals can be activated only after UN weapons inspectors certify that Iraq has destroyed its weapons of mass destruction and the sanctions on Baghdad are lifted.
Russian Minister Puts Spotlight on UN Inspectors in Iraq.