At the U.N., Excitement, Confusion Finally Gave Way to ‘Sober Reality’ : Diplomacy: When calm returns, the reactions to Iraq’s statement are predictable.
Kuwait’s ambassador was first off the mark, arriving at the United Nations so fast Friday that technicians scrambled to set up television cameras to record his pre-breakfast dismissal of Iraq’s statement, filled with conditions, that it was willing to withdraw from Kuwait.
By midmorning, massed reporters chased confused ambassadors--many in the strange position of not having received instructions from their governments--down hallways, seeking instant opinion. Rumors even spread that Saddam Hussein might be losing his hold, could be the target of a military coup.
Symptomatic of the excitement was a quick exchange in the hallway outside the Security Council between U.S. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering and Yemen’s Ambassador Abdalla Ashtal, a longtime U.N. colleague. Yemen is one of Iraq’s strongest supporters in the council, even though it calls for Baghdad’s withdrawal from Kuwait.
“Nine conditions! Linkage!” exclaimed Pickering as Yemen’s representative expressed optimism at Baghdad Radio’s announcement.
“Your optimism is counterbalanced by my pessimism,” countered Pickering.
“At least there will be balance there,” retorted Ashtal, as the two diplomats entered the council’s chambers.
Chips in the normally well-waxed veneer of diplomacy developed.
Even David Hannay, the British ambassador, nicknamed the “schoolmaster” by reporters for his precise demeanor, appeared to lose his cool--for just a brief moment.
As he raced down the corridor, Hannay encountered a high-ranking member of the U.S. delegation and expressed displeasure about one part of President Bush’s statement rejecting Iraq’s offer.
But by midafternoon, after a quick private meeting of the five permanent members of the Security Council, a sense of order had returned. One German diplomat remarked: “The excitement we saw this morning has turned into sober reality.” And reaction was divided along largely predictable lines.
“I am glad to see the word withdrawal has entered into Iraq’s vocabulary,” Hannay said. “Perhaps if we wait a little bit longer, the word Kuwait will enter into Iraq’s vocabulary.”
As he spoke with reporters, Hannay wryly observed of Hussein:
“He seems to have discovered a new way to solve the debt problem. Invade your neighbor and you get your debts canceled.”
Soviet Ambassador Yuli M. Vorontsov offered the assessment that Iraq’s proclaimed readiness to withdraw “is rather contradictory.”
Pakistan provided a good sampling of middle-ground opinion among many nations, saying Baghdad’s offer merited study.
Pakistan’s ambassador remarked that a real test could come when Iraqi Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz visits Moscow this weekend.
“They (the Soviets) certainly will be able to separate the wheat from the chaff,” said Ambassador Jamsheed K. A. Marker.
Diplomats scrambled for a precise text of Iraq’s offer before the Security Council met in another rare closed-door session, the first series of such meetings in 15 years.
U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar said Iraq’s proposal needed to be carefully studied. He said since Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, the United Nations has been working on contingency plans to cover any troop withdrawal by Hussein.
During the council meeting Friday, Iran charged that the allies were engaged in killing defenseless civilians and destroying the infrastructure of Iraq and Kuwait.
Iran also announced during the council session, according to participants, that it would send a high-level mission to Baghdad in the next few days.
The council will continue its closed-door debate on the Persian Gulf War today.
“Talk in the council takes a lot of time,” observed Yemen’s Ambassador Ashtal, citing a longtime truth at the United Nations.