France delays UN vote over sanctions on Iraq
Known for his commentary on international relations and US politics, Rupert Cornwell also contributes obituaries and occasionally even a column for the sports pages. With The Independent since its launch in 1986, he was the paper's first Moscow correspondent - covering the collapse of the Soviet Union – during which time he won two British Press Awards. Previously a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times and Reuters, he has also been a diplomatic correspondent, leader writer and columnist, and has served as Washington bureau editor. In 1983 he published God's Banker, about Roberto Calvi, the Italian banker found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge.
Thursday 16 December 1999
The surprise came late on Tuesday in New York, when Britain, in the Council chair, scheduled a vote on the resolution. After weeks of hard diplomatic graft, to find a compromise over the degree of Iraqi compliance with the UN required to trigger a suspension of sanctions, Britain believed it had finally won safe passage for the resolution.
But the French ambassador called for a further delay to come up with a new formulation that could win Iraqi approval.
Britain's public reaction has been one of patience: "We don't want to close a window if there's the slightest possibility of maximum consensus," Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the UK ambassador to the UN, said, referring to the possibility of persuading France to vote "Yes" and increase the resolution's authority in Iraqi eyes.
Privately, Britain believes France is playing for time, caught between incurring the wrath of the US by trying to weaken the proposed resolution further, and aligning itself with the Anglo-Americans and risking lucrative contracts in Iraq, once sanctions are lifted.
The French now want to put the controversy on the agenda of Friday's foreign ministers' meeting of the G-8 group of leading countries, including Russia and the US. But this is opposed by Britain. It would mean that the Council could not vote before Friday, probably Monday. After that comes the Christmas break, followed by entry of a new set of non-permanent members on the Council.
"That means in practice we'd have to start again from scratch," one British diplomat said. "We don't want another Anglo-French spat, and we want to get as broad support as possible. But obviously, this can't go on for ever."
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