Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 212

A tumultuous and intense weekend of diplomatic maneuvering came to a peaceful–if still uncertain–conclusion yesterday as UN staff members began returning to Baghdad and international arms inspectors prepared to renew their monitoring efforts in Iraq beginning tomorrow. The decision to bring UN staff back to Iraq followed a meeting of the UN Security Council in New York yesterday afternoon at which council members accepted pledges from Baghdad authorities that they would allow the UN weapons inspectors to resume their work. The Security Council issued a statement warning Baghdad to meet its latest commitment to allow the return of the inspectors “on an immediate, unconditional and unrestricted basis” (AP, Reuters, November 15-16).

Yesterday’s council decision, though, was no foregone conclusion. After the United States agreed to a last-minute cancellation of air strikes against Iraq on Saturday, there was some hope that the latest crisis over Iraq might be brought to a quick conclusion. A set of conditions included by Iraq in its capitulation notice to the UN quickly raised new complications. Russia, France and China–the Security Council members most sympathetic to Baghdad–argued for acceptance of the Iraqi capitulation with the conditions included. But the United States and Britain, mindful of Iraq’s repeated failure to live up to its commitments to the UN, insisted that Baghdad make a more unambiguous pledge to comply with international demands (Washington Post, November 15). The issue was finally resolved to Washington’s and London’s satisfaction, and U.S. President Bill Clinton yesterday put off, for the time being, plans to launch strikes against Iraq.

The weekend’s events–indeed those of the last several weeks–bore some resemblance to the confrontation which occurred between Iraq and the world community this past February. On this occasion, however, Baghdad’s defiance of the UN was so brazen that it cost Iraqi leaders support even in Russia, France and China. While those countries continued to favor a diplomatic solution to the crisis, their opposition to threatened strikes on Iraq by the United States and Britain was considerably less energetic than it had been in February. And UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who stepped in to broker a settlement in February, on this occasion resisted entreaties from Baghdad–and Moscow–that he intervene once again.

Last week Russian leaders, while continuing to make public their opposition to military strikes on Iraq, also showed their irritation with Baghdad. In a message to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Russian President Boris Yeltsin warned Baghdad that the situation in the Persian Gulf was getting out of control. He told Saddam that Iraq faced a real risk of U.S. air strikes unless the crisis could be resolved quickly (Reuters, November 13). Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Posuvalyuk, who also serves as the Kremlin’s special envoy to the Middle East, conveyed much the same message on November 13 when he placed blame for the current crisis on Baghdad (Ekho Moskvy, November 13). Those messages strongly suggested that Moscow would not play the mediating role requested by Baghdad as U.S. air strikes loomed.