Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Showdown over Iraq ; Friday, UN Weapons Inspector Hans Blix Delivers a Key Report on Iraqi Compliance

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Showdown over Iraq ; Friday, UN Weapons Inspector Hans Blix Delivers a Key Report on Iraqi Compliance

Article excerpt

How to disarm Iraq is the visible bone of contention before the United Nations Security Council Friday. But some nations also see this as a pivotal moment in the battle to curb the exercise of American power.

The underlying concerns about the use of force - which have kept a debate over Iraq going for months in the UN - could result in a formal and lasting split among major powers. And that, some experts say, could threaten the way the world has collectively addressed security issues for five decades.

"The UN itself is being tested in its ability to deal with international security issues," says Richard Solomon, president of the US Institute of Peace in Washington. "This is new territory for everybody," adds Walter Russell Mead at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

As chief UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix submits a new report on Iraqi cooperation Friday, the clash between the UN Security Council's two camps - the United States and Britain on one side, and France, Germany, Russia, and China, on the other - appears to be hardening.

The first clues as to whether a rift similar to the one now tearing NATO will formally divide the Security Council could come following the Blix report.

Another report issued this week by a UN-assembled panel of weapons experts found a new Iraqi missile that could travel 114 miles, a violation of UN limits. That may bolster the US position that Iraq continues to act in defiance of UN mandates and will not disarm peacefully. A tough report by Mr. Blix, incorporating the missile violation, could provide the basis for circumventing a Council split, experts say.

But Thursday, the positions of the two main camps showed no signs of converging.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said he does not believe Iraq is in "material breach" of the latest UN resolution, using a diplomatic term for a condition that in international law would authorize the use of force. In response, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Iraq is in "further material breach" of UN resolutions. He also dismissed the French-German plan for beefed-up inspections as a signal to Baghdad that "defiance pays."

The decision by most of the key Security Council countries to send their foreign ministers to New York for today's meeting is another sign of the importance countries are giving not only Blix's report, but the long-term implications of the debate.

"France and Germany are saying that for now their highest priority is to block the United States," says Mr. Mead. "We don't really know how serious they are about this, but to some degree they are acting like the Atlantic Alliance is a thing of the past."

Britain is expected to introduce a new UN resolution next week to help solidify public support for disarming Iraq by force. But based on today's Blix report, it might conclude that such a resolution could not pass quickly, and Britain could give up on the UN and join the US in a "coalition of the willing" to wage war. …

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