A week when the Security Council began to resemble a dodo

David Usborne
Saturday 15 March 2003 01:00 GMT
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The gold dodo stands in a plexiglass box beneath large lettering on the wall announcing the entrance to the Security Council. A gift to the United Nations from Mauritius, it was unveiled on Tuesday. The timing was exquisite: inside, the 15 ambassadors were hurtling towards an almost certain disaster that risks rendering the body if not quite extinct then disabled for years to come.

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the beleaguered British envoy, has been rehearsing his own metaphor for what the Council is now facing all week. He told colleagues on Wednesday that they were on a ship heading for an iceberg and unless they came together the vessel would sink. But by week's end few among them seemed stirred to make a grab for the tiller.

The diplomatic meltdown began a week ago on Friday when the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, amended the resolution on Iraq tabled 10 days earlier by Britain, Spain and America, setting a St Patrick's Day deadline for Saddam Hussein miraculously to convert and come clean. Minutes later, a reporter caught the Russian ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, walking the corridors and asked for his view of the suggestion. He scowled and replied: "It's bullshit." But Mr Straw was concerned with six countries on the Council seen as the fence-sitters. He hoped his initiative, which gave President Saddam one last, if narrow, chance to come around, would win their support and deliver the minimum nine votes for the resolution's success.

On Sunday, the Guinean ambassador, currently president of the Council, met Sir Jeremy in his office with the answer. The Six were still uncertain. What was it that Iraq would have to do, for example, to satisfy Washington and London? And they didn't like the short deadline.

When the Council convened on Monday, envoys spent most of their time questioning Hans Blix, the chief inspector, on his report detailing Iraqi evasion about its weapons. America, however, had a bee in its bonnet about one thing: why had Mr Blix not made more of the find of a large drone mentioned on page 14 of the document? Wasn't it a smoking gun?

At an open meeting of the Council on Tuesdaya parade of speakers berated America for being impatient for war and failing to give inspections more time to work. Meanwhile the British were preparing another twist to their proposals.

On Wednesday, Mr Straw presented his newest gambit: identifying six tests that Iraq would have to meet. But if Sir Jeremy hoped for a kinder reception when he appeared for Council consultations that evening, he was disappointed. His Titanic appeal was met, according to one source, by a "snide" riposte from Ambassador Lavrov. And the Six undecided states failed to rally to his side.

The whiff at UN headquarters by Thursday was one of desperation, mostly from the British corner. Even America was not explicitly endorsing the six tests and nobody had a clue what the deadline for President Saddam to respond would be; it was clear that the date of 17 March, this coming Monday, was out of the window.

The headlines yesterday were about America simply giving up on the entire enterprise rather than facing diplomatic catastrophe – and about the sudden idea for Messrs Bush, Blair and Aznar of Spain to meet in the Azores tomorrow. Until that meeting is over, the Security Council is likely to be paralysed. But then it has been paralysed for more than a week already.

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