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France and the crisis of the presidential sites in Iraq

In the Iraqi so-called “presidential sites” crisis, France, starting from a number of simple principles, based itself on an analysis of the situation in order to pursue resolute action in favour of a diplomatic solution, the only way of preserving what had already been achieved by the United Nations presence in Iraq and preventing grave destabilization in the Middle East. From this crisis, France draws a number of lessons relating to future cooperation between the Iraqi authorities and the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), the treatment of the issue by the Security Council and the prospects for further developments in Iraq and in the region.

1. The principles

From the outset, France’s concern was to promote, in the Security Council and in its bilateral relations with Baghdad, a balanced approach to the Iraq issue, on the basis of three principles.

1.1 Compliance by Iraq with the Security Council resolutions, in the first instance SCR 687, a necessary and sufficient condition for Iraq’s reintegration into the international community.

Following the Gulf war, the Security Council stipulated a number of requirements which had to be met before Iraq could be reintegrated into its regional environment and the international community. The most important was the elimination of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and establishment of an effective system of continuous monitoring designed to prevent Iraq from reconstituting its arsenal of such weapons. This is one of the essential guarantees of the region’s security, which is the principal objective of the international community. But France also believes it is necessary to preserve “the light at the end of the tunnel”: once Baghdad has fulfilled its disarmament obligations, paragraph 22 of SCR 687 will apply.

1.2 Recognition by the international community of any gestures of cooperation made by Iraq.

The French authorities have recognized the progress made by Iraq in implementing Security Council resolutions (recognition of the border with Kuwait in 1994, implementation of SCR 986 in 1996). France has never glossed over any evidence of Iraqi prevarication or dissimulation reported to the Security Council, but conversely has always argued that the Security Council should draw the political conclusions when progress was made, particularly in disarmament.

1.3 Respect for UNSCOM's prerogatives, while taking account of Iraq’s dignity.

UNSCOM, a subsidiary body of the Security Council, was created in 1991 by the Secretary-General and approved by the Security Council. It is the only body empowered to undertake the disarmament of Iraq. UNSCOM has achieved concrete results. In seven years, it has destroyed more weapons than did the 1991 bombings of the “Desert Storm” operation. It is on the basis of its technical advice that the Security Council will be able to lift the oil embargo.

To carry out its mission, UNSCOM is vested with extensive prerogatives: an unconditional and unrestricted right of access to any site it wishes to inspect. But that right may be adapted to take account of the sovereignty, political independence and dignity of the Iraqi State, these being principles which are also recalled in the UN resolutions and texts.

2. The French analysis

2.1 Analysis.

The presidential sites crisis arose from the Iraqi refusal to discuss with Mr Butler, Executive Chairman of UNSCOM, specific procedures for inspection of the eight presidential sites (19 January). That decision by Iraq, which was a clear breach of the resolutions, was immediately judged unacceptable by all members of the Security Council.

The French authorities urged the view that only a diplomatic solution could bring a lasting resolution of the crisis. This analysis was based on three principal considerations:

- first, military intervention seemed to us disproportionate in relation to the offence. Only eight sites presented difficulty. Everywhere else, the Commission was continuing its visits and keeping a continuous watch on all the suspect sites.

- the use of force would also have dealt a fatal blow to the UN operation in Iraq, whether in terms of the system of continuous monitoring, or for the purposes of the humanitarian assistance instituted by SCR 986. The authority of the Security Council and its ability to act would have been severely affected. Any such outcome would have run directly counter to our concerns as a permanent member of the Security Council, and more particularly our constant concern to contribute to the stability of the Middle East region and promote the peaceful settlement of disputes.

- lastly, in the context of the deadlock in the Middle East peace process, the use of force against Iraq seemed highly inopportune. It would have aggravated tensions in the region and fuelled the criticism levelled at the United Nations - and more generally at the international community, particularly the western countries - for demanding that one State fully implement Security Council resolutions, while another might be refusing such implementation with impunity.

2.2 The French initiatives

- in the first place, the French political authorities ensured that they remained in close contact with the principal players in this crisis. President Chirac had regular talks with several other heads of State, and the Foreign Minister kept in touch with his principal colleagues, notably Mrs Albright, Mr Primakov and Mr Cook.

- secondly, our position was made clear to all our partners and they consulted on a regular basis. We made a particular effort vis-à-vis the Arab countries (the Foreign Ministry Secretary-General went on a tour of the region and envoys were sent to all the Arab countries). We were also been at pains to explain our position to our partners in the European Union and on the Security Council, as well as a large number of non-aligned countries. Thus, two special envoys of the President of the Republic travelled to Sweden, currently a member of the Security Council, and to Asia.

- finally, the French authorities deemed it necessary to establish direct contact with the Iraqi authorities in order to convey to them ideas about the inspection of presidential sites which we had already presented to Mr Butler during his visit to Paris in January. Thus, the Ministry Secretary-General went to Iraq on 3 February bearing an initial message from President Chirac. This message detailed the French ideas, which sought to reconcile UNSCOM's prerogatives with respect for the sovereignty and dignity of the Iraqi State. M. Dufourcq also consulted in Iraq with Mr Possuvalyuk, the Russian envoy, who was also endeavouring to reach agreement with the Iraqi authorities on specific procedures for the eight sites. After M. Dufourcq’s return, the Minister also talked on the phone to Mr Tarek Aziz and President Chirac granted an audience, in Paris, to the Iraqi Foreign Minister, who delivered a message from the Iraqi Head of State to his French opposite number.

The diplomatic efforts of France, Russia and a number of other parties (notably the Secretary-General of the Arab League) proved not to be in vain. Iraq thus accepted the principle of access to the presidential sites, but there was still difficulty over the practical arrangements.

2.3 The mission of Mr Kofi Annan and its aftermath

Our efforts, in liaison with others, then turned to promoting the journey to Iraq of the UN Secretary-General. Numerous approaches were made to our partners on the Security Council, as well as in many non-aligned countries, in the quest for a very large measure of support from the international community for this initiative.

Mr Annan went to Iraq, on 19 February, with the unanimous support of the Security Council, whose agreement was based on a number of simple and general principles. Mr Annan was remarkably successful. The memorandum of agreement signed by the Secretary-General and Tarek Aziz, after a series of talks between the Secretary-General and the Iraqi authorities including the Iraqi head of State himself, adopts, inter alia, some of France’s ideas: a special group composed of both UNSCOM experts and diplomats is to be created under the authority of a 22nd commissioner appointed by the Secretary-General (Mr Dhanapala of Sri Lanka). The inspection teams will be created within this special group and may make repeated visits to the presidential sites. Finally, specific procedures are outlined by the Secretary-General to take account of the particular character of the sites concerned.

The memorandum also mentions UNSCOM's respect for the sovereignty, security and dignity of Iraq. The text thus constitutes a balanced whole which includes reciprocal obligations.

The UN Secretary-General also decided to appoint a special representative for the whole issue of Iraq, resident in Baghdad (he designated Mr Shah).

On his way back from Baghdad, as he had on the way out, Mr Kofi Annan stopped off in Paris where he had a meeting with President Chirac. On his return to New York, the UN Secretary-General immediately presented the memorandum to the Security Council, emphasizing that the text fully committed its signatories and thus indisputably had binding force.

Discussions began on a draft resolution designed not just to endorse the memorandum, but also to warn the Iraqi authorities against any violation of the text. Committed to total respect for the prerogatives of the Security Council, France, like most of the other Council members, was keen to ensure that any risk of "automaticity" was ruled out in SCR 1154 (2 March)

On 3 March, bearing a second message from President Chirac to the Iraqi President, the Ministry Secretary-General went back to Iraq to underline the importance France attaches to the full and swift implementation of every part of the memorandum and full cooperation with the UN. He also reaffirmed to the Iraqi authorities that Iraq will qualify for reintegration into the international community as soon as Baghdad is in full compliance with the Security Council resolutions.

3. Lessons from the presidential palaces crisis

Four main lessons may be drawn from this crisis.

3.1. Our conviction that a diplomatic solution was possible proved correct, even though this result was achieved only through the combination of intensive and constant diplomatic efforts with military pressure: the international community's firmness and determination to enforce compliance with its decisions were accompanied by concrete suggestions in conformity with international law capable of creating the basis for a political settlement of the dispute.

Far from limiting UNSCOM's prerogatives, our proposals were designed solely to make its action more effective and enable it to have access to sites which previously it had never been able to inspect.

Finally, a military intervention would not have been able to neutralize any weapons of mass destruction, possibly held by Iraq, whose location is unknown. But it is absolutely certain that it would have ended all dialogue and all participation on the part of the Iraqi authorities in the destruction of the prohibited weapons.

3.2. For the first time, the Iraqi authorities have signed a document with the UN Secretary-General reaffirming their acceptance of all the Security Council resolutions and explicitly mentioning UNSCOM's right of unconditional and unimpeded access to all the sites.

We have to hope that this is a definitive settlement of the problem of the access to the sites, which since 1997 has been the main problem encountered by UNSCOM. So, every category of Iraqi site open to inspection is now covered by specific procedures (normal sites, sensitive sites, presidential sites). If all the parties implement the memorandum in good faith, this should no longer present any problems and relations between Iraq and UNSCOM should again be able to focus on the essential issue.

France hopes the Baghdad agreement will allow UNSCOM to complete the elimination of the prohibited Iraqi weapons, so that a start can be made, by lifting the oil embargo, on the process of Iraq's reintegration.

However, Iraq will be able to see the final lifting of all sanctions only when Baghdad has met all the obligations incumbent on it under the terms of paragraph 21 of SCR 687. Indeed, the Security Council resolutions lay down other requirements, including, inter alia, settlement of the prisoners and "disappearances" issues and restitution of plundered property. These obligations will have to be honoured before SCR 687 can be implemented in full. The Iraqi authorities must not underestimate their importance, particularly because these are painful issues for their neighbours. The French authorities regularly call on Iraq to cooperate with the United Nations on these different matters, which constitute other conditions for Iraq's full reintegration into the international community.

3.3. Pending the lifting of the sanctions, France remains greatly concerned about the tragic humanitarian situation in Iraq.

On 2 February 1998, the Security Council passed SCR 1153 which authorizes Iraq to export the equivalent of $5.2 billion of oil every six months, instead of the $2 billion initially provided for under SCR 986. In return, the Iraqi authorities will be able to obtain more humanitarian goods and halt the continuing deterioration of the infrastructures, water and electricity systems in Iraq. France, which was at the origin of the process of the reform of the provisions of SCR 986, welcomes the adoption of this resolution, which should help to improve the humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people.

3.4. The region's security and stability remain our fundamental objective. France regards the reintegration of a monitored Iraq and normalization of its relations with the neighbouring States as one of the prerequisites for this stability. We also consider that it will not be possible to guarantee this stability long-term if the peace process in the Middle East remains deadlocked and if the coexistence of the region's States is not achieved through a comprehensive peace agreement. The success of diplomacy in the Iraqi crisis must encourage the international community to make fresh efforts and not accept the "programmed death of the peace process".