The Azores Pseudo-Summit March 16, 2003
by Phyllis Bennis
1) Bush's statement following his brief meeting with Blair and Aznar was an ultimatum to the United Nations, not to Iraq. "Tomorrow is a moment of truth for the world" refers to a final insistence that other countries and the UN comply with U.S. demands that they endorse war. There is no longer any attention being paid to Iraqi compliance or non-compliance, or to the success or failure of the inspectors; disarmament, indeed Iraq itself, are no longer part of the diplomatic equation.
2) The desperate nature of the Azores meeting demonstrates how isolated the U.S.-UK position is, and how isolated Tony Blair is in defending it.
3) Stating that a decision to back a U.S. war represents the "only effective way of supporting peace and security," demonstrates that the Bush administration has abandoned diplomacy. And no one has the right to abandon diplomacy in favor of choosing an elective war.
4) In Bush's speech he never mentioned the UN inspectors. This indicates that despite claims that the Azores meeting was a "last chance for diplomacy" rather than a war summit, there is no serious consideration of the accomplishments of UNMOVIC and the IAEA overall, and thus no way Iraq's current improved levels of cooperation can have any effect. There was also no mention of Iraq having provided the inspectors (Thursday) with a new long document dealing with the destruction of VX material.
5) Bush said that the U.S. will "bring economic sanctions to a swift close" AFTER the "liberation" of Iraq, meaning after the overthrow of the regime. Another piece of evidence the U.S. has no intention of abiding by the actual terms of the disarmament resolution (687) which requires lifting sanctions when disarmament is complete, NOT having anything to do with "regime change."
5) Chirac repeated he will veto any resolution that authorizes war. It is not clear whether, if France's bottom line demand for a somewhat longer timetable is met, Chirac would accept another resolution that uses language like that in 1441 -- implying the use of force, but not explicitly authorizing it.
6) Aznar's focus solely on the "trans-Atlantic link" between Europe and the U.S., indicated again that much of the debate over this war actually reflects greater concern for what the U.S. is up to than how dangerous Iraq might be.
7) Hans Blix's response to the British proposal indicates it is not serious. Blix said if only ten days time were allowed (the outside limit in the British proposal) to finish disarmament, there could be only "token fulfillment" by Iraq of any of the requirements of 1441.
8) If Bush and Blair were serious about giving diplomacy a final chance, they would have met in urgent weekend session at UN headquarters, WITH other governments, WITH Kofi Annan, WITH representatives of regional organizations including the Arab League, etc.
9) There is obviously a difference between U.S.-UK position, and that of all the other countries, regarding whether 1441's language of "severe consequences" in fact means an automatic trigger for war; Washington and London say yes, everyone else says no. But in such a case, the key authority lies in the last line of the last article of the resolution: "the Security Council remains seized of the issue." In UN diplo-speak, that means the issue remains under the authority and jurisdiction of the Council, and no individual member state can unilaterally take it over.
10) At this moment (late Sunday evening) the "most likely" scenario is impossible to predict. There will be a Council meeting on Monday at 3:00, ostensibly to vote on some version of the original U.S.-UK-Spanish proposal, amended so that instead of calling for Iraqi compliance by March 17, it will identify another date, perhaps the 27th. It is not certain whether the version of the resolution put before the Council on Monday will in fact be a once-and-for-all vote. It is possible the resolution put on the table will be quite different from the original draft, could even reflect some level of agreement from France and Germany (and therefore Russia, China & the Uncommitted Six). As of Sunday night Blix was still saying he expects to provide an updated briefing for the Council on Tuesday. It is not clear whether he anticipates having the new document on destruction of WMD material translated by that time or not. In the 20 hours or so between the end of the summit and the Monday afternoon meeting, the U.S. pressure, ratcheting up from arm-twisting to leg-breaking, is certainly escalating. There could be, though it is unlikely, a U.S. decision to avoid the final vote till the re-scheduled compliance date (March 27 or whatever). There could be, though it is unlikely, French acquiescence to a new U.S.-UK proposal that might have a "more rational" timeline, as the French said they wanted, but might even include some covert form of automaticity. What is not so clear is whether there is any potential compromise that the Bush administration would be willing to accept. The most likely scenario is one based on Bush himself wanting a war.
Alternative scenarios -- 11) If the U.S. either withdraws the resolution without a vote, or it gets defeated in the Council, the U.S. is prepared to go to war even without Britain if necessary. However, such a development would make the illegal, Charter-violating nature of the war unmistakable.
12) That might be enough to encourage one or more countries in the General Assembly (perhaps part of the Non-Aligned leadership, such as South Africa and Malaysia together) to apply the Uniting for Peace precedent which allows the Assembly to take up an issue of peace and security that ordinarily is restricted to Council consideration. The UforP resolution (see the Center for Constitutional Rights sample draft) could condemn the U.S. war, identify it as a threat to peace and security, call for immediate UN negotiations, explicitly reject any claim that it is enforcing UN resolutions, and call for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, planes, bombs, etc.
13) Another what-if scenario could involve the refusal of UNMOVIC and/or IAEA inspectors to leave Iraq when Bush gives his official 72-hour warning (Powell suggested Sunday morning that it might be time already for the inspectors to get ready to leave -- a remark Blix snapped was not appropriate to be made in the media). What if Blix and Kofi Annan together refused to order the withdrawal of the inspectors, or said they could not order the withdrawal since the inspectors work for the Council, or if the inspectors themselves announced they were refusing to leave their post as long as their disarmament work was proceeding? Such a statement might indicate that a global mandate for disarmament is not to be taken lightly, that the threat of an unlawful, unauthorized war by one member state should not be the basis for abandoning one's post when the work is proceeding, that only the UN should decide about suspending the inspections and that such a decision should not be based on threats of an illegal war. Would the Bush administration be prepared to launch their war with 150 or 200 inspectors circulating around the country? It is certainly possible the answer is yes -- and it is not likely something any UN official could demand of the inspection teams. But given the stakes anticipated by UN and other casualty estimates, it may be the kind of desperate gamble, carried out by inspectors on their own volition, that takes on unexpected legitimacy because so many lives are at risk.
Phyllis Bennis is the author of Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s UN (Olive Branch Press, 1996) and Before and After: US Foreign Policy and the September 11th Crisis (Olive Branch Press, 2002). She is a Middle East analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org) and a senior analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org