Ireland almost certain to support UN Security Council resolution


UN: Irish support for the resolution on Iraq submitted to the UN Security Council yesterday is now virtually certain. This follows changes by the US to accommmodate French concerns that the motion should not provide any implication of sanction for the automatic US use of force if Iraq obstructs UN inspectors.

Irish diplomatic sources said last night they were "increasingly confident" that the new resolution would receive the backing of all five permament members and all but one - Syria - of the council's 10 other members.

Speaking in the Dáil on the Adjournment last night, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Cowen, insisted that diplomatic means remained the best way to resolve the crisis and reiterated Irish concern for the centrality of the UN to the process.

"It is for the council to determine whether there exists a threat to peace, and then to decide what is to be done to remove the threat," he said.

"Every possible effort should be made to avoid the use of military force, which should remain a matter of last resort," Mr Cowen added.

He argued that the resolution "as it is shaping up now, offers the best possibility of securing Iraqi compliance with its disarmament obligations and avoiding the use of force" and maintained there was "no automatic trigger for military action".

Irish officials believe that the impact on Iraq will be markedly more pronounced if there are no abstentions among the Security Council members, leaving no room for propaganda from the regime about a divided international community.

The draft leaves unaffected and unresolved a key ambiguity - an unhappy understanding by all that the US will not regard itself as "handcuffed" by the resolution, in the words of the Secretary of State, Mr Colin Powell, in an interview earlier this week with The Irish Times.

In the event of the Iraqis blocking the work of the inspectors, the issue must, according to the resolution, be referred back to the Security Council, but Washington insists that any subsequent prevarication by the council should not constrain the US from acting with allies to bring Iraq to book.

US diplomats in New York were arguing that legal sanction for any military action by the US was provided by previous UN resolutions dating back to the 1991 Gulf War ceasefire agreement.

The Irish view is that the Security Council is still required to sanction specifically any resulting military action and diplomats point out that the resolution makes no reference to military action.

They argue the issue can be long-fingered until it arises, if indeed it arises.

Irish diplomatic sources insist that, notwithstanding such unresolved ambiguities, they are pleased that the US has come up with a wording that should allow a 14-1 vote at the Security Council on a tough resolution. That, they say, is the best way of applying pressure on the Iraqis to comply, the best way to avoid war.

Two months ago, one Irish diplomat said, the talk was about a US invasion of Iraq.

Now, he said, there was the strong possibility that diplomatic means might make a peaceful outcome possible.