The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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UN media circus gives US taste of its medicine

New York, Feb. 15: If war in Iraq is avoided or postponed as the result of any chain of events triggered by yesterday’s mometous meeting of the UN Security Council, a lot of the credit for this will have to go to the media.

The Americans, who were at the wrong side of internatioal public opinion in the Security Council yesterday are furious that Germany and France, their reluctant allies in the war against Saddam Hussein, backed by Russia and China, converted yesterday’s Security Council meeting into a media circus on the eve of worldwide protests against Washington’s preparations for regime change in Baghdad.

According to sources in the various country delegations to the Security Council, Germany, France, Russia and China acted in concert and kept Americans in the dark about how the Security Council would hold its crucial meeting yesterday in the hope that their strategy would give peace a chance.

To start with, these sources said, Americans agreed to yesterday’s second report by chief weapons inspector Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed el Baradei on the understanding that it would be a closed-door report as usual to the Security Council.

But after securing US consent to the second report, the Europeans started pressurising the US to agree to an open sesson.

Their argument was that the world should not get an impression that a historic decision on war was being taken in secret an behind closed doors. Washington agreed to that reasoning, partly because they had been encouraged by the previous report by wepons inspectors on January 27 and expected Blix and el Baradei to comprehensively indict Saddam Hussein in their second report.

Blix who met US national security adviser Condoleezza Rice here two days before his second report appears to have given that impression as well. In any case, he kept his cards close to his chest.

But that was not all. Two days before the Security Council meeing, France, Germany, China and Russia sprang a surprise on the Bush administration and announced that their foreign ministers were all travelling to New York to attend the meeting.

Till then, the impression was that only permanent representatives of member countries to the UN would hear the report from Blix and el Baradei.

But once key foreign ministers decided to take part in the open session, US secretary of state Colin Powell too had to change his plans and travel to New York. British foreign secetary Jack Straw followed suit.

It was a plan that guaranteed global attention on TV screens from Canada to Australia, attention that would sway public opinion. But the biggest surprise for the Americans was the report by Blix. After he failed to comprehensively condemn Saddam Hussein, as the Ameicans were led to believe he would, Powell had to entirely dispense with his prepared text.

He furiously took notes as Blix and el Baradei gave their presentations to the Security Council and spoke ex tempore. So did at least two of only three other Security Council members who were seen as supporting Washington — Spain and Bulgaria.

French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin carried the day. The Security Council chamber, which had 400 invitees, mostly diplomats attached to the UN, broke with convention and protocol and applauded de Villepin.

Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov also received an applause. The Americans who are so used to manipulating the media and world opinion to suit them feel that the Germans, the French, the Russians and the Chinese got together to give Washington a taste of its own medicine.

Bush administration officials are complaining that yesterdy’s Security Council meeting was a brazen attempt to try them through the media in the court of international public opinion.

That countries opposed to war may have got away with their strategy was clear this morning as weekend polls indicated a further erosion of Americans public support for the Bush administration’s war efforts.

But will that be enough to stop a war' Much will depend on the turnout at public rallies across the US to protest against the war. And the intense diplomatic activity which will take place in the coming days here and in other world capitals.

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