Few Options for Containing Iraq despite Iraq's Latest Blockage of Weapons Inspections, US Remains Reluctant to Use Force out of Fear of Alienating Allies

Article excerpt

As US diplomats wearily face yet another confrontation with Saddam Hussein, it appears that eight years of struggling to contain the stubborn Iraqi dictator have taken their toll. The US may have few good options for dealing with the latest Iraq inspection crisis, in part because many old Gulf War allies have no desire to bomb Baghdad again.

US threats to use force to compel compliance with UN weapons inspectors have been muted in recent days, at least compared with the belligerent sword rattling of crises past. At the same time, many US officials are preoccupied trying to find out who planted the bombs that blew up two American embassies in East Africa - acts of terrorism that some experts have speculated may be related to Gulf or Middle Eastern tensions.

The stakes in Iraq remain high, caution experts. If Saddam Hussein manages to distract world attention long enough to accumulate weapons of mass destruction, it would produce one of the most dire threats to US interests imaginable.

But US officials must walk a fine line in their attempts to prevent such a scenario. They want to avoid the situation they found themselves in last February, when opposition from other members of the UN Security Council rendered US threats of force hollow.

The Clinton administration "doesn't want to get caught in the same trap as last time, when {it} was caught out on a limb without anyone else," says Richard Shultz, director of Tufts University's International Securities Studies Program.

The latest standoff began last Wednesday, when Iraq flatly declared that it would no longer cooperate with the inspectors of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) that have moved about the country since the end of the Gulf War, looking for evidence of development of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.

On Sunday, UNSCOM suspended inspections of new suspected arms sites, but said its experts in Iraq would continue to monitor sites already identified as suspicious. In response to the latest crisis, US officials have had at least one primary goal: define the conflict as one between Iraq and the world community as opposed to a US-Saddam fight.

Thus, on Sunday, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the conflict "is a problem between Saddam Hussein and the United Nations. And the United Nations has to stand up for what it has obliged him to do."

This approach shows how much importance the US is putting on trying to keep up a united front with its allies. That is the result of the bitter lesson learned last January and February, when the administration belatedly discovered that of the Big Five Security Council powers, Russia, China, and France all favored relaxation of sanctions against Iraq to some degree. …

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