BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 29.09.02

Film: IRAQ. Iain Watson looks at the pressure Washington is exerting on the UN Security Council to back its tough new resolution on Iraq.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: America and Britain have drafted a new resolution for the United Nations that would mean war with Iraq unless Saddam Hussein accepts a deadline of seven days to allow UN arms inspectors to go about their job and another thirty days to tell them where all his nasty weapons are stored. But the other three permanent members of the Security Council (Russia, China and France) are uneasy. It needs a veto of only one of them to halt the resolution in its tracks. By this weekend the draft should have been agreed - and it hasn't been. As Iain Watson reports, America is piling on the pressure ... offering carrot AND stick. IAIN WATSON: While George Bush and Tony Blair say they want a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis, it's becoming clear that preparations for war are continuing. The Americans are stepping up their presence in the Gulf, while both the UK and the US want agreement from the united Nations that Saddam will face military action if he doesn't disarm. but as memories of the 1991 Gulf War fade, the International Community appear reluctant to fall into line behind the Anglo American vanguard This trophy of war was captured in 1991 during Desert Storm. But British intelligence have found that it has a rather chilling modification. Down here, a barrel of chemicals could be attached; the chemicals would then be sucked up through this pipe which runs the full length of the vehicle; the chemical agents would then be expelled through the system's exhaust as the tank cut through enemy lines. Now no-one should be surprised that Saddam has the capacity to wage chemical or biological warfare, but many in the International Community remain to be convinced that he poses a clear and present danger AHMED ABOUL GHEIT: We do not feel at all threatened by any, anything I mean anything for, for from Iraq. I think the episode of 1990 is behind us. WATSON: And a former Foreign Secretary is warning that Saddam may be a greater danger if he's provoked SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND: If the whole purpose of American intervention is regime change, getting rid of Saddam, then he's got nothing to lose. You can't deter him from using any of the powers at his disposal, because the alternative from his point of view is even worse. So the risk has to be, and it's more than a possibility, it's I think a likelihood, is that faced with defeat he would launch an attack on Israel with chemical missiles, the Israelis would feel obliged to respond, and what was an American Iraqi war would become a Middle Eastern war WATSON: In 1991 more than thirty nations joined the coalition against Iraq, but this time not nearly as many countries are keen on military action. The US and UK want to broaden support. and are putting a resolution before the UN Security Council which would give Saddam one last chance to allow weapons inspectors unfettered access to his country. But agreement is far from certain. Although British officials have told On The Record that the wording of the US and UK resolution is designed to maximise support, it appears to be too hard-line in its present form to get backing from Russia, France and China - the three remaining permanent members of the UN Security Council. The Draft Resolution would give Saddam seven days to declare what weapons he has and to give a commitment to disarm, and thirty days to allow UN weapons inspectors back into the country. Failure to comply with the resolution will lead to the use of 'all necessary means' against Iraq -a euphemism for military action. The Iraqis have already said they'll oppose the US and UK resolution as currently drafted, but the British government say tough talking is the best way to ensure a peaceful outcome. MIKE O'BRIEN MP: The paradox of this is that the tougher the resolution, the greater the chance of avoiding war because if he gets a clear message from the UN that you must not breach international law or else there will be consequences, then hopefully he will allow the inspectors in, and he will disarm, he will get the message in other words. WATSON: But the hawks in the US administration see the resolution more as a means of giving a green light to military action; if Saddam doesn't declare - within a week of the resolution being passed - what weapons of mass destruction are in his armory, they say there's no point in even sending in weapons inspectors - it's time to send in the troops instead. RICHARD PERLE: Saddam must give up his weapons of mass destruction immediately. And if he doesn't then, we will be free, the International Community or those members who are willing to bear that burden, we would be free to take action against him for that reason. Now we know that he has weapons of mass destruction, so if such a resolution passes, and then Saddam continues to deny that he has any weapons of mass destruction, he would be in clear violation of that UN mandate. WATSON: But the French have told US officials they would veto any resolution directly linking Iraqi non compliance on weapons, to the threat of military action. they want a two stage approach - a new UN resolution compelling Saddam to re-admit weapons inspectors , and then a further resolution on military action if, and only if, it was clear Saddam wasn't complying. The British Government aren't ruling this out. O'BRIEN: The French are saying they want to see two resolutions, we would prefer to see one resolution, we'll be discussing with the French how we work our way through these issues, the important thing though is that the resolution is a tough one because we must get the message over to Saddam Hussein and moving to a two resolution approach may actually enable us to do that WATSON: But the Americans are holding out for one clear uncompromising UN resolution; and are trying to convince other Security Council members it could be in their economic interest to back regime change in Iraq. This could mean guaranteeing French companies a share in rebuilding a battered Baghdad, while the Russians might like to see some hard cash; they're owed around five billion pounds by Saddam's regime. PERLE: No two countries ever have identical interests and the Russian interest is a little different from ours. Parts of it is similar but they would like to be sure that the significant debt, Iraq's significant debt will be repaid, that may be something that they insist upon. Frankly, I think they're a lot more likely to be repaid by a liberated Iraq than by Saddam who's chosen not to pay them all these years. SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND: Mr Putin will have his price in terms of something he will wish from Washington, I've no doubt Washington will be able to provide that price, and therefore the Russians at the end of the day will acquiesce. The more difficult one to predict is China, if the Arab countries as whole are deeply hostile, then China will join them. If the Arab countries have come in to line, the Chinese will be more likely to abstain. ACTUALITY WATSON: A few days ago George Bush senior was in Britain to commemorate the us and UK standing shoulder to shoulder during World War Two; during his presidency, the two countries built a Gulf War coalition encompassing an impressive number of Arab States. The British now believe progress in the Middle East peace process is a way to re-establish these harmonious relations. O'BRIEN: The Arab countries in the Middle East want to know that the United Kingdom and the United States, regard these issues as important, do see international law here as indivisible, that there are UN resolutions in relation to Palestine and Israel, which do need to be complied with. WATSON: To help build an anti-Saddam coalition the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will raise the prospect of a new Middle East peace conference during his tour of the Gulf States next week. Arab nations are angry that, in their view, Israel has gone unpunished for ignoring the UN by demolishing the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's compound in the West Bank. They want to see the UN's will enforced here before considering a new front against Saddam. GHEIT: There is a resolution from the United Nations calling for Israel to stop all activities and all measures that are applied in Ramallah and around the compound of President Arafat and that is a problem that has to receive priority and I think the, the Arab group within the United Nations would be doing particularly that, during the next few days. WATSON: During the Gulf War George Bush senior saw American troops joined in combat by several Muslim nations but a highly influential Labour backbencher who has just returned from the Gulf is sceptical that George Bush junior will take a strong enough line with Israel to ensure a repeat performance. CLIVE SOLEY MP: It actually is quite difficult to see whether the United States has the political will to deal with the Israeli question, particularly in issues of fundamental importance like the Israeli settlements in Arab lands, that sort of thing ought to be a very clear no no from the whole International Community, including the United States and they don't seem to be able to deliver that. WATSON: If in the end the price demanded by UN Security Council members to agree a tough resolution on Iraq is just too high for the Americans, then those close to the US Defense Secretary and the US Vice President - the so-called hawks -say it's time to by pass the united nations entirely and take on Iraq in their own right. PERLE: If we cannot get the United Nations to recognise that the United Nations itself is on trial, having failed to insist on implementation of its own resolutions, then I think the United States in its self defence, will have to take whatever action is appropriate to limit the threat from Saddam Hussein. WATSON: Military action? PERLE: Military action. ACTUALITY WATSON: If that's the line the US does pursue the ranks of the anti war movement in this country may grow if Britain opts to remain shoulder to shoulder with the US, rather than the UN. The real danger to Tony Blair's position doesn't come from die hard anti war protestors but from more moderate elements in Labour's ranks- those who would countenance military action against Iraq just as long as the UN gives its approval. The wider electorate seem to share the same concerns of many within the Labour movement; recent polls suggest two thirds of voters would make common cause with these demonstrators if action were taken only by the US and UK, without wider international backing. SOLEY: Military action without the United Nations support and without movement on Palestine, would produce a major problem for the prime minister and for the Labour Party, there is no doubt about that. Frankly I would very very strongly advise don't do it, because I think the situation could get dramatically worse and you could end up with the situation in the Middle East being infinitely worse. WATSON: This fly past is in honor of US and UK victories in war; but the battle both countries are now fighting is a diplomatic one, to convince the United Nations to take a tough line on Iraq. If they fail, and America then decides to go it alone, Britain may have to choose between the special relationship, or damaging relations with the wider International Community.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.