Opposition to Bush’s war in Iraq — especially from key European allies — has forced the administration to delay announcement of U.S. intentions for at least a few more weeks. South Africa insisted that the meeting be open and public, although the serious negotiations will not begin till Wednesday.

France and Germany maintained their earlier positions that “so far the inspections are going on without difficulties. They have already produced some results, but there are still question marks.” They called on Iraq to improve its “proactive” cooperation, while saying that to fulfill the terms of 1441, inspections should be given “enough” time. The German ambassador said Iraq “should be disarmed completely and by peaceful means.”
But when asked about specific positions regarding new timelines or deadlines, they refused to answer. There is a danger that U.S. pressure on either (or both) France and/or Germany could result in a back-room deal in which “old Europe’s” opposition to war caves in. In such a scenario, Berlin and/or Paris might accept a U.S. deal giving perhaps six additional weeks, and then, with the extra time for face-saving, agree to stand silent (perhaps with abstentions rather than vetoes) if the U.S. presses to go to war.

Both UN inspectors’ reports to the Security Council indicated that more time was necessary to complete the inspection process, the IAEA explicitly requesting at least 2 months, and UNMOVIC implying that more time was needed in its references to areas where UNMOVIC is following up on “open” issues. The reports were upbeat on the nuclear front, and ambiguous, cautious and less positive, on the chemical and biological weapons side.

Blix’s report showed the effect of U.S. pressure, but it fell short of assigning Iraq a clear failing grade, thus denying the Bush administration their sought-after justification for war.

The inspectors’ reports did not give any indication they had found actual evidence of a functioning program to produce prohibited weapons in Iraq. The specific violations they mentioned are generally not absolute, and certainly do not provide actual evidence of Iraqi efforts to rebuild prohibited weapons programs.

The demand for improving Iraq’s “pro-active” cooperation reflected a consistent U.S. claim that Iraq is cooperating only grudgingly. Bush administration official repeated their comparison with South Africa’s voluntary project of ending its nuclear weapons program, which they claim was quick and easy because South Africa, unlike Iraq, was eager to disarm and welcomed international inspections to verify its progress. In fact, South Africa’s Ambassador Kumalo Dumisani told the Council that the inspections need much more time. South Africa’s successful disarmament, he reminded the Council, took two years.

On the scientists — Iraqi officials have publicly urged scientists to cooperate with the UN inspectors, including to accept private interviews without Iraqi officials present. So far no scientists have agreed; the inspectors themselves have said they will not become a “defection agency” and will not “kidnap” Iraqis against their will. This remains to be resolved and Iraq has said they are working on it.

On the U2 flights — Iraq has refused to accept U.S.-piloted U2 surveillance planes to fly over Iraq to assist the inspectors. Iraqi officials indicate that the reason is that because of the U.S.-British patrols over the illegal “no-fly” zones, and the U.S. bombing of those zones and beyond, they cannot guarantee the safety of the surveillance planes. Negotiations on this point are under way.

On the missiles — Iraq is allowed to have and test short-range missiles with a range of less than 90 miles. In one set of tests Iraq attempted a 110-mile flight. This is technically a violation and Iraq has given the inspectors new guarantees that it will not be repeated. However, it is clearly not an indication of a serious Iraqi military build-up.

Remaining unanswered questions include some left over from earlier inspection regimes. Blix said specifically that Iraq “should” have additional documentation, keeping the burden on Baghdad. Primarily they include areas where Iraq says that relevant material (chemical or biological) was destroyed or lost but that there is no existing records documenting the destruction. In such case, the only way to resolve the impasse is to shift the “Iraq has the burden” position — and for the U.S. (or anyone else accusing Iraq of hiding information) to come forward with evidence that the Iraqi claims are not true.

The delay in Council decision-making gives additional time — likely at least a month to six weeks — to mobilize even broader anti-war forces. Keeping France and Germany on the no-war side will require strengthening the global and U.S. anti-war movements. We must maintain unrelenting pressure on the basis of “the world says ‘NO’ to war.”

Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies where she directs the New Internationalism project. Her books include Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer and more recently Ending the Iraq War: A Primer.

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