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U.S. Gulf War Allies Fail to Back Condemnation of Iraq

By Craig Turner
Los Angeles Times
UNITED NATIONS

In the strongest sign yet that international support for the United States' policy of confrontation with Iraq is wavering, three key U.S. allies - Russia, France and Egypt - refused Thursday to vote for a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the Persian Gulf nation.

The desertion of three members of the 1991 Persian Gulf War coalition came on a resolution criticizing Iraq for refusing to cooperate fully with U.N. weapons inspectors in charge of dismantling Iraqi chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.

The measure, sponsored by the United States and Britain, passed by a vote of 10-0, with five abstentions. China and Kenya joined Russia, France and Egypt in declining to back the resolution, which threatens to slap more sanctions on the Iraqi government in April unless it improves its cooperation with the weapons inspection team.

Russia, France or China, as permanent members of the Security Council, could have vetoed the measure; by abstaining, they let the proposal pass while registering their objections.

The abstentions came despite last-minute U.S. concessions on the wording of the text and an intense lobbying campaign that included personal appeals by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov and French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine.

Critics called the measure a disproportionately harsh response to Iraq's latest transgressions and one that failed to credit the country for those instances in which it did cooperate with the weapons inspectors.

Russian Ambassador Sergei V. Lavrov said the proposal was "faulty from both logical and legal standpoints and therefore cannot be acceptable."

The resolution expresses "grave concern" over Iraq's refusal to permit U.N. investigators access to suspected biological weapons sites and declares Iraq in "flagrant violation" of the agreement ending the Gulf War, which called for inspections to confirm the dismantling of weapons systems. It threatens adoption in April of a ban on travel outside the country by high-level Iraqi officials unless cooperation improves. It also directs the United Nations to immediately begin compiling names of those who would be subject to such a ban.

That represents a significant softening of the U.S. and British position since the beginning of the week, when they favored immediate imposition of travel restrictions. U.S., British, Russian and French officials negotiated all week to find wording on which all could agree, worried that a breach in council unanimity would encourage Iraq to continue to harass U.N. inspectors.

But when Lavrov arrived Thursday with proposals to further erode the resolution, British Ambassador John Weston, barely concealing his anger, called for an immediate vote.

"We have worked hard and in good faith to accommodate all members' preoccupations on the text, but we were not willing to compromise the underlying purpose of the resolution or the responsibilities of the U.N. Security Council in order to appease Iraq," Weston told the council.

U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson noted that there have been other resolutions on Iraq that failed to muster unanimous support and added that the 10-0 vote still carried "the full weight of international law."

Iraqi Ambassador Nizar Hamdoon complained that the United States and Britain had "imposed their own sick norms on the council" but declined to predict how Iraq would react.

Qualms about the U.S. hard line against Iraq have been building in the United Nations for some time, based on Iraqi claims of hardships imposed by U.N. sanctions, which include a near-total embargo on Iraqi oil sales. In part to combat that, the United States has supported a program that allows a limited sale of Iraqi oil, with proceeds going to a U.N.-supervised humanitarian program.

Russia, France and some Arab nations began questioning U.S. criticism of Iraq in the Security Council last year and have been reluctant to consider new sanctions.

But U.S. and British diplomats have bitterly complained that the real motivation for the Russian and French support for Iraq is a desire to cash in on contracts for oil and gas exploration when the sanctions eventually are lifted.