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Curtain Rises On U.N. Iraq Debate

CBS Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk, who teaches international law at the City University of New York's School of Law, will be at the United Nations for the two weeks of the General Assembly Session, where she has been analyzing events for two decades.



The annual convening of 191 nations at the United Nations General Assembly began last week; in the "General Debate," which begins on Tuesday, there are two items to watch for: — President George W. Bush's address on Tuesday in which he will call for action from the international community to rebuild Iraq and transfer government to the Iraqi people; and, Secretary General Kofi Annan has invited structural change in the way the U.N. deals with major crises.

Both leaders have assessed the perceived problem and plan to call for change, in a reversal of the adage "it's broke, let's fix it." While the Secretary General has been explicit, President Bush's admission of problems is implicit in his outreach at the U.N. In essence, President Bush is asking for dollars and troops; the European response, led by France and Germany, is to ask "when?"

"Debate" is the diplomatic term for the name-calling and acrimony that developed during last year's General Assembly session over the U.S. war with Iraq. Already the U.N. Resolution on Iraqi self-government has hit heavy turbulence as a result of the European-U.S. rift. All sides agree that Iraq - now run as an occupied territory by the U.S.-appointed Coalition Provisional Authority — should be run by Iraqis, with a timetable and a United Nations-led military force but the transfer of political power is a bone of contention.

Comments made in early September by France and Germany on the U.S. draft, leaked to CBS News, stated: "We fully agree with the SG's proposal of a timetable. In our views if we want the process to be welcomed and supported by the Iraqis and the countries of the region, the UN (through the SG) should play the key-role (not the Authority) in assisting the Governing Council to develop the timetable." Since that time, a new proposal inched steps further but failed to develop a consensus and a new proposal is expected during the General Assembly session.

Sobered by two tragic events, the mood at the U.N. is grim. An attempt to assassinate one of the leaders of the Iraqi Governing Council left Aquila al-Hashimi in critical condition and the August bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad killed special envoy Sergio — Vieira de Mello.

Foreshadowing his opening address, Secretary General Kofi Annan told CBS News on Friday, "The events we have lived through in the past year have shown that the international system is not working as it should." Thus, for the first time, the Secretary General is prepared to have the U.N. consider changing the structure of the institution.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan told CBS News, "I've asked heads of States and governments to come to this General Assembly armed with good ideas on how to make the system work better. And I hope they will not shy away from questions about the adequacy, and effectiveness, of the rules and instruments at our disposal. If that means making radical changes in the structure and procedures of the Security Council and other U.N. organs, so be it." Thus, Iraq is the main agenda item, coupled with a call to make the UN work.

Despite the words of Isaiah inscribed at the U.N. entrance in New York: — "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more," the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Liberia constitute armed conflicts.

At the heart of the issue before the U.N. during the next two weeks will be whether to follow a multinational course or for the U.S. to 'go it alone.' Secretary-General Annan will address that issue point blank, he told CBS News: "All of us know there are new threats that must be faced — or perhaps old threats in new and dangerous combinations: New forms of terrorism, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. But unfortunately, we don't seem to agree on the response. Some countries believe they must deal with them unilaterally or in ad hoc coalitions, while others cling to the system of collective decision-making enshrined in the UN Charter. Needless to say, I am in the later camp."

Richard Grenell, Spokesman for U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte told CBS News, "It is not true that we have pursued a course of unilateralism; we have gone to the U.N., particularly in Iraq. We had support for both Resolutions 1483 and 1500 to lift the sanctions on post-war Iraq and establish the assistance mission and now we are seeking support in the U.N. for a transition. "A weekend summit in Berlin with England, France and Germany, failed to mend fences before the U.N. meets. President Bush's speech, White House officials have indicated, will be a call to U.N. delegates to leave the pre-war bitterness behind to help rebuild Iraq.

Further complicating the issue, there is no clear answer at the U.N. to 'who is the government of Iraq?' Ironically, Farhan Haq, U.N. spokesman told CBS News, the government of Saddam Hussein is still credentialed as the government of Iraq and no one has asked the U.N. Credentials Committee for a change. "It's a problem," said Haq. The Committee, which includes the United States, China and Russia, would be the Committee to change the designation, which on the current schedule lists the speaker as the former government's Chief of Delegation. Since the Provisional Interim Authority remains the occupying Force in Iraq, to change the seating at the United States would be acknowledging the legitimacy of the new government — the very contentious subject on the agenda.

"The Iraqi delegation will be led by Governing Council President Ahmad Chalabi," Osama Altayi, the spokesman at the Iraqi Mission in New York said, "and he will take the Iraqi seat." What if the diplomat from the Hussein government sits at the Iraqi delegation place? "Let the chips fall where they may," a Mission diplomat who preferred to remain anonymous, said.

The General Assembly, made up of all 191 member states, is the main debating body of the U.N., where the events take place. The U.S. complaint in the past is that it gives equal standing to countries large and small, from China to St. Kitts. But the Security Council, made up of five permanent members all with veto power in substantive votes (China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S.) and ten members with two-year terms, — is where the weighty decisions of war and peace are usually resolved — or not. — Timing is important, since both Mexico and Syria will end their terms this December. — Some proposals before the General Assembly are to add members to the all-important Security Council to reflect post war growth and change.

On Opening Day, Tuesday, September 23, the agenda calls for — Heads of State of the U.S., France, Brazil and Afghanistan speaking among others; on Wednesday, Germany, Mexico and Pakistan; on Thursday, Russia.

On Sunday, Secretary General Kofi Annan released a dove of peace at the U.N. plaza lawn. With so much hanging in the balance, a sense of the goals of the U.N. may be needed to resolve the tensions of this sobered international forum.

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