© St. Petersburg Times, published March 18, 2003
UNITED NATIONS -- As diplomacy on Iraq essentially ended, President Bush and America's allies said the United Nations will play an essential, humanitarian role after the guns are silenced.
However, diplomacy dissolved into finger-pointing over the issue of Iraq on Monday.
The end of the latest effort by the United Nations to disarm Iraq came when the United States and its allies withdrew a new Security Council resolution that would have set a March 17 deadline for Saddam Hussein and backed it up with the threat of military force.
The resolution was introduced by the United States, Britain and Spain, who said Iraq had failed to comply with Resolution 1441. That measure sent weapons inspectors back to Iraq last November for the first time in four years and threatened "serious consequences" unless Iraq proved it had no weapons of mass destruction.
British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock laid the blame for the diplomatic stalemate squarely at France's door, saying the French had made it clear they would veto a followup no matter what the circumstances.
"That country rejected our proposal even before Iraq itself," he said.
He said that at one point or another, the new resolution had garnered the support of 10 council members -- all but China, France, Germany, Russia and Syria. But he said the members didn't want to go out on a limb so long as France's veto was assured.
Secretary of State Colin Powell also tore into France, saying that the country understood when it voted in November that the resolution meant force would have to be used if Iraq failed to cooperate fully.
"We all knew what we were doing last fall," he said.
But the French said the United States and its allies were forced to withdraw their resolution simply because they couldn't muster the nine votes needed to win a majority on the 15-member Security Council.
"Members of the council repeatedly stated that -- and it's a majority of members on the council -- that it would not be legitimate to authorize force now while the inspections set up by Resolution 1441 are producing results," said France's U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere.
The Security Council scheduled a meeting Wednesday at the request of France, Germany and Russia, who still were seeking a peaceful way to disarm Iraq.
The three countries want foreign ministers to set a "realistic" timetable to carry out a dozen key disarmament tasks established by chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix.
Despite the U.N. wrangling, Bush called the United Nations "a very important organization," and his joint statement with the leaders of Britain and Spain at a Sunday summit in the Azores Islands said they planned to work closely with the world body.
In the event of war, the three countries said they will urgently seek approval of new Security Council resolutions "that would affirm Iraq's territorial integrity, ensure rapid delivery of humanitarian relief, and endorse an appropriate postconflict administration for Iraq."
They said they will also propose that Secretary-General Kofi Annan be given interim authority to ensure that the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people continue to be met through the U.N. oil-for-food program.
Even as the anti-U.N. rhetoric was at its most intense, the administration was quietly working with the United Nations on plans for a postwar Iraq.
"The U.N. has an important role to play in the postconflict Iraq," Annan told reporters as he announced a suspension of Iraqi humanitarian programs in light of a looming war. "This does not mean an end of involvement for the U.N. in the Iraqi situation."
Even France said it would help with aid and allow U.S. military aircraft to fly through French airspace during any conflict.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said that despite the disagreement over Iraq, France remains an "ally" and "a friend" of the United States and would offer assistance after a war.