New York Times
January 18, 2004
By Warren Hoge
The United States comes to the United Nations on Monday, asking the organization that the Bush administration has kept at a deliberate distance from its Iraq stabilization plan to step in now and help rescue it.
In off-the-record comments, many here complain about being asked to validate a process from which they were excluded, and wonder if the world organization is not being manipulated by the White House for election-year political purposes.
The November agreement between the United States and the Iraqi Governing Council to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqis on June 30 made no mention of any United Nations role, and the omission was one that Secretary General Kofi Annan said he took as a snub.
But on Monday, L. Paul Bremer III, the American administrator in Iraq, and a delegation of the United States-appointed Governing Council will be asking Mr. Annan to commit the United Nations to saving the arrangement, after it has come under fire in Iraq.
Asked what the United Nations' mood was after being disparaged often by the Bush administration, Fred Eckhard, Mr. Annan's spokesman, said: "The gut instinct here is not, 'I told you so.' It's more relief that we are getting back to normalcy where governments work with each other, where international understanding is a national priority."
Mr. Annan has made it clear that while he favors a speedy timetable for giving authority to Iraqis, he is unwilling to commit the United Nations to an ill-defined mission. The Monday meeting is consequently not expected to produce any definitive announcements.
It could serve, however, to ease the deep worry at the United Nations over the threat the strained relations with the Bush administration are seen to pose.
"It has been a truism since the time of the League of Nations that without the United States committed to and participating in international organizations, they are not going to work," said one official.
David M. Malone, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations who heads the International Peace Academy, a research institute across the street from the United Nations, said of the meeting, "The positive feature is that the U.S. belatedly, but importantly, is realizing what its friends have told it all along - which is that the U.N. can be useful in these situations and can build confidence among multiple populations."
But he added, "The risk for the U.N. is that the U.S. could simply be seeking to establish a scapegoat for the failure of its grand design."
The Security Council will hear a report on Iraq in a closed session on Monday afternoon from the current Governing Council chairman, Adnan Pachachi. The president of the Security Council, Heraldo Muņoz of Chile, said members were no longer focusing on the differences they had with the United States over the war.
"My feeling is that the moment of divisions has been overcome and that there is a strong consensus on the Council around the idea that, even given the circumstances, we must do everything possible to assist the political process," Mr. Muņoz said in an interview.
He noted that until now the United States appeared to want the United Nations kept out of the political transition and included only in the second stage after the June 30 transfer of power, where it could employ its experience in writing constitutions and setting up elections.
"It is now welcome that the U.S. would like the U.N. to play a role in the first stage," Mr. Muņoz said. "But what has to be elucidated is what that role is and whether the responsibility will be commensurate with the risk."
Mr. Annan withdrew international staff members from Iraq in October after attacks on relief workers and the bombing of United Nations headquarters, which killed 22 people, including the mission chief, Sergio Vieira de Mello.
In recent weeks, the United States and some Iraqi politicians have been pressing Mr. Annan to send his staff back into Iraq, but he has insisted on assurances of protection for them and "clarity" in the description of what they would be asked to do.
In that connection, the United Nations announced this week that it was sending a four-person military and police team to study security provisions for the possible return of its workers.
As much as United Nations officials would like to end their marginalization from Iraq, they worry about the timing of going back in now.
"It's a totally novel, unprecedented and uncomfortable position for the U.N. to be in a country under occupation," said an official who served with Mr. Vieira de Mello in Iraq.
A diplomat from a Security Council country that stood against military action said: "Everyone wants to see the U.N. back in Iraq. No one here has any interest in keeping the U.N. out. But part of the poker game we will see Monday will be who needs whom more and who needs to move first."