At the UN, It's Not Just about Iraq ; Many Nations May Use Next Week's Expected Security Council Vote on US Resolution to Bridle US Might

Article excerpt

Picture the Lilliputians pulling ropes, tying knots, doing their best to restrain the giant Gulliver. As a historic vote on Iraq nears at the United Nations, some observers describe what is happening as a similarly Swiftian scene.

The world, more concerned about the unbridled use of American power than it is about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, is as intent on limiting the giant's power as it is in taking away the despot's weapons.

The global interest in restraining American power is one factor explaining why so many countries are balking at US pressure to support its resolution in the United Nations Security Council. It also explains why so many are supporting France and its alternative approach to dealing with Baghdad.

The French proposal, not yet submitted, would require the US to return to the UN to seek permission to go to war, should a new weapons-inspection regime fail to disarm Iraq. How the US responds to this attempt to hobble its power may set the tone for global relations for years to come.

Analysts note that the US under President Bush has had some notable successes at playing the geopolitical game - drawing Russia into the Western fold, and mending relations with China, for example. But some wonder if the US could squander those gains by single-mindedly pursuing Mr. Hussein, a gambit that many countries perceive as unilateral action.

"There are risks for the United States ... especially in respect to some of the gains it has made in the geopolitical sphere," says Thomas Henriksen, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, Calif.

Many heads of state are dealing with domestic constituencies that oppose cooperation with the US on Iraq, prompting some leaders to temper their support for America. Russian President Vladimir Putin "was already seen as a little too pro-American when it came to the US going to war in Afghanistan," Mr. Henriksen says. Any Russian still longing for the glory days of the Soviet Union, "feels strongly that Putin has to stiffen his response to the US."

A Security Council vote that had looked imminent may now be pushed back until just after the US midterm elections next week. That would give the Bush administration time to continue negotiating for as much international support as possible for a tough inspections resolution. It's a stance that the US electorate wants from the White House, according to opinion polls.

The White House is portraying the situation as a win-win for the US. On the one hand, it either results in the US-authored resolution with "triggers" for US military action in the event Hussein fails, as expected, to comply with the stiff requirements. Such a resolution would include reference to "consequences" if Saddam fails to meet all demands, and to the Iraqi leader being in "material breach" of UN resolutions - phrasing taken in international diplomacy to authorize war.

The US was "heartened," one official close to negotiations says, by chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix's support Monday for just such a tough resolution. …