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Bush-Powell teamwork spurs U.N.


WASHINGTON - Working as a global tag team that at times seemed engaged in a bad cop-good cop routine, President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell galvanized the United Nations Security Council into displaying a unity and forcefulness toward Iraq that few thought possible even a few days ago.

With a drumbeat of war threats, underscored by a new national security doctrine calling for pre-emptive U.S. attacks against looming dangers, Bush made clear to Iraq and the world that he had his sights on the regime of Saddam Hussein, a brutal dictator who Bush suspected would never relinquish his chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs and whom the American military would have to depose.

Yet even as much of the world became convinced that war was inevitable, Bush gave a wide diplomatic berth and weeks of jawboning time to Powell, who made enough compromises, stroked enough diplomatic egos and massaged enough paragraphs of text to produce a resolution that left open the possibility of peace.

The result Friday was a unanimous Security Council mandate that gives broad international support to the president's overriding goal of dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction while preserving Bush's freedom to launch military action to oust Hussein if U.N. weapons inspections fail and the Security Council becomes immobilized by disagreement.

For Bush and Powell, the resolution is a success, said Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to former President Jimmy Carter. Bush "first pressed hard but had the common sense to go the U.N. route," he said. For Powell, who at times has seemed isolated among more hawkish administration officials, it's "a remarkable achievement," Brzezinski added.

The Bush-Powell teamwork began Aug. 16 when Powell, in a video hookup with the president and other members of Bush's national security team, weighed in on how to remove the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

The two men have on occasion appeared strikingly out of sync, with Bush and his chief diplomat betraying discordant attitudes on issues ranging from North Korea to the Middle East peace process.

But on that summer day, Powell, a self-described "reluctant warrior," persuaded Bush and his more hawkish lieutenants - Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld - to follow the same U.N. route that Bush's father had pursued in building an international coalition against Hussein in 1990 and 1991 after Hussein invaded Kuwait.

How far Bush was willing to go to win international support would not become apparent for weeks.

Speaking to the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Sept. 12, Bush forcefully recounted Hussein's "decade of defiance" and challenged the world body to confront the Iraqi leader or lose relevance.

"Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?" Bush demanded of U.N. delegates.

He didn't mention new U.N. weapons inspections, derided by hawks as ineffectual. He merely asserted that if the United Nations failed to deal with the Iraqi regime's defiance, the United States would.

In the days and weeks that followed, Powell quietly worked to remove diplomatic obstacles to confronting Hussein.

One of the biggest was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Arabs, many Europeans and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan thought that conflict, and not Iraq, represented the most pressing security threat in the Middle East. Powell joined Russia, the European Union and Annan in crafting a Mideast peace initiative, which has accomplished little but eased tensions with allies.

Back at the White House and on the campaign trail, Bush pressed an even harder line than he had in New York, at times belittling the world body. He repeatedly said it risked becoming a latter-day League of Nations, which shrank from confronting the Fascist powers before World War II. At one point, he said Hussein had made the Security Council look "foolish."

And he launched a full-bore, ultimately successful, campaign to gain congressional approval for the United States to go to war, alone if necessary.

The threats had a purpose. They "served to help convince others that you either get a resolution or you get a war," a senior administration official said.

"Do I believe it was a credible threat? Yes," said Lee H. Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat who is a former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "We made it clear in the diplomatic arena, but just as important has been the movement of military forces into the region. No one can miss it."

The threats got Iraq's attention. Soon after Bush's speech, Iraq agreed to let inspectors, barred from the country since 1998, back in.

Bush's public reaction was to dismiss Iraq's offer. Behind the scenes, however, Powell built on it, working with close ally Britain to draft a U.N. resolution with a renewed set of inspections at its core.

"Powell knew all along that the president wanted to solve it peacefully if possible," the senior administration official said.

Drafting the language

Powell's subalterns and British diplomats drafted language they thought would win Security Council approval. Bush's White House, however, overhauled it, putting in much stricter rules for inspections.

This draft would have authorized member states, meaning the United States, to act on their own against Iraq using "all necessary means," the words that a decade earlier became diplomatic code for war with Iraq.

"You start with the strongest [language], then work down," the senior official said. "We knew that whatever we presented, people would try to water it down." The British were skeptical but agreed to push the revised text.

For Powell, weeks of haggling followed, mostly with the French. A once-great power that jealously guards its prominent and independent role in world affairs, France was determined to preserve the Security Council's authority.

More than French pride was at stake at the United Nations. Powell also had to be sensitive to Britain's needs.

Bush's closest foreign ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, while publicly in lockstep with the president, privately had reason to worry.

"Joining the U.S. in unilateral military action would provoke strong opposition," said Gary Samore of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. "Some people here believe it could cause the collapse of his government."

Powell spoke daily with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to develop a diplomatic alternative to war.

The British were solidly behind the idea of inspections despite Bush's skepticism. They and Powell trusted chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix to conduct thorough and tough inspections.

Over time, Powell brought Bush around to a similar view.

Recruiting Moscow

Bush and Powell worked together to enlist Russia's support. Powell knew that Moscow had an economic stake in Iraq's future and listened sympathetically to Russia's pleas that any future Iraqi regime honor Hussein's unpaid debts to Moscow.

And, after Russian President Vladimir V. Putin's forces staged a hostage rescue mission in Moscow, in the process releasing lethal amounts of gas that killed more than 100 people, Bush's White House avoided criticism, instead expressing understanding of Putin's tactics.

In the end, Powell brought the resolution close to passage, winning agreement Tuesday from French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.

But it took phone calls by Bush to Putin and French President Jacques Chirac to close the deal.

Brzezinski agrees that the strategy of combining Bush's threats with Powell's diplomacy helped.

"Conveying [the impression] that you appear to be irrational at times is a good tactic," he said.

But in the view of Samuel R. Berger, national security adviser to former President Bill Clinton, it spooked the allies and ended up wasting valuable time and giving a measure of comfort to Hussein.

"I think this is a strong and useful resolution," he said. "I'm not sure we couldn't have gotten it some weeks earlier without sending the message that the international community is divided."

The United Nations' Annan, who has in the past issued thinly veiled criticism of Bush's go-it-alone foreign policy, praised the resolution as "an example of multilateral diplomacy serving the cause of peace and security."

It might open a new chapter in Bush's relations with the world - a muscular multilateralism with Powell as its quietly moving force.

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