Tue, 25 Oct 1994

Iraq still in the cold

The United States and Britain have told Saddam Hussein they will use force to halt any new Iraqi ground buildup in a 150-mile-deep zone adjoining Kuwait. Good.

Its internal tensions had kept the United Nations Security Council, in warning Iraq against a repetition of its recent war scare, from specifying the zone in which attack-capable units would be excluded. Washington and London got usefully concrete. No less usefully, they made the further concrete point, against the same hesitation from Russia, France and others, that the Security Council warning of "serious consequences" means "appropriate and decisive" force.

The United States looks at Iraq and sees first a strategic threat likely to continue as long as the dictator Saddam Hussein rules. Russia and France, while not blind to the threat, see first a market; they are ready to live with the Iraqi dictator. In fact, the American view is realistic and prudent, and the dominant pattern of Saddam Hussein's policy supports it. The man could change -- if North Korea could change, you have to say, who couldn't? -- but he hasn't shown it yet.

His enduring style is intimidation and duplicity. He showed the one by his latest move on Kuwait. He shows the other by his attempt to satisfy selected Security Council demands, not all of them, so as to play to Russian and French commercial interests and win escape from sanctions.

Between Washington and Paris, differences are old hat, and the diplomats are practiced in soothing them. But the connection between Washington and the new Moscow is still unsettled, and similar differences rattle the whole relationship.

In this instance, Americans, though aware of the internal nationalistic pressures in Moscow, were irritated to find Russia pushing its own softer line. Iraq then severely embarrassed its Russian friends by repudiating the side deal the Russians thought they'd made -- an exchange of Iraqi recognition of Kuwait for a start on lifting sanctions.

That leaves Iraq in the cold. It has reinforced its standing as an outlaw state. It has wasted much of the credit that it reaped from meeting the U.N.'s weapons-monitoring demands, and that it could otherwise have applied to peeling back sanctions.

There is a split on whether Iraq, to gain sanctions relief, should meet a short list (Russia, France) or a long list (America, Britain) of U.N resolutions.

On the short list, the leading item is recognition of Kuwait; on the long is an end to repression of Kurdish and Shiite minorities. But this split promises no early comfort to Saddam Hussein. Sanctions, with a humanitarian loophole that he has so far cruelly disdained, remain in place, and should remain in place, while Iraq remains a regional menace.

-- The Washington Post