Drawing the noose around Baghdad Diplomatic offensive: Gains and losses in attempt to disarm Iraq.

January 31, 1998

WITH PRESIDENT Clinton on the phone and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Ambassador Bill Richardson fanning out to United Nations Security Council members, the United States is trying to show Iraq that the U.N. stands by its resolution.

Iraq must disarm in the areas of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, or suffer the consequences. That is the stick. The carrot would be lifting the economic sanctions once the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) has confirmed the required disarmament, though some Americans are reluctant.

President Saddam Hussein does not believe in the world community's resolve. That is what the crisis of obstructing UNSCOM inspections is about, driving wedges into the coalition surrounding him. Washington is clearly preparing militarily and diplomatically to strike at targets in Iraq, with preparations so clear as to intimidate the Iraqi dictator into compliance.

Britain stands lock-step with the United States. France is moving to tacit support. China and Russia are the two permanent members of the Security Council that demand Iraq's compliance but condemn any attempt to achieve it with force or threat of force.

Ms. Albright's meeting yesterday in Madrid, Spain, with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov and his deputy, Viktor Posuvalyuk, just come from Baghdad, brought the latest messages from Mr. Hussein. Mr. Primakov held out for "patience." Russia is poised to pick up any influence in the Arab world that the United States is about to drop. China is a long way off.

As U.S. chief representative to the U.N., Mr. Richardson is taking the second tier, nonpermanent Security Council members. Even Sweden has joined the middle ground of agreeing that force might become necessary.

But in restoring the coalition, the United States needs to find Arab and Islamic powers that agree. Turkey, host of U.S. planes that enforce the no-fly zone in northern Iraq, does not. The 40 to 70 missile warheads with chemical or biological warfare agents TTC that UNSCOM chief Richard Butler thinks exist are a menace to Islamic and Arab peoples. Iraq's wars have been with Iran, Kuwait and dissident Iraqis. Yet they are loath to espouse their own national security.

The purpose of the diplomacy is to persuade the dictator to back down. But threats are no better than the will to carry them out. To launch attacks against Iraq, Washington ought to know what they are meant to achieve. Destroying the weapons, based on experience, is unlikely. Would bombing deter or provoke their use? The dictator would hide his assets and place innocent civilians near the likely targets. It is much better for the diplomatic offensive to succeed, and too early to say that it did not.

Pub Date: 1/31/98

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