1 December 2003

The Secretary General had a different action in mind when he told the press after the monthly Security Council luncheon that "we are looking at what we could do from outside Iraq, what we can do cross border." He wanted to demonstrate that he is still "seized" with the question and "not just sitting back and waiting until circumstances change." There are things that could be done from the outside, he added; "offering advice, steering advice, sharing things right and going in and out."

That will be a disappointing let down if the U.N. role is limited, however temporarily to "binocular peacekeeping." There is some hope, however, in some other form of "outside" involvement. Some "creative" minds are floating around a rehashed version of the formula applied by Secretary General Boutrous Ghali's team for Afghanistan and continued under Kofi Annan for a while until almost the war on Taliban. "Six plus two" included the countries neighbouring Afghanistan plus the United States and Russia. At the time, it was a backdoor to discreet U.S.-Iranian contacts over an issue of mutual interest without necessarily raising media attention. No photos were allowed at those meetings which were usually held in Conference Room 8 in the first basement. The revised formula regarding Iraq, possibly brought up by someone with institutional memory or a keen researcher, would most likely entail some variation on the same theme. Neighbours of Iraq are Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Egypt, the biggest Arab country, headquarters of the Arab League, and major U.S. ally, could play a crucial role -- as it is already doing discreetly, particularly in the field of "intelligence." To accommodate the British allies and allay French suspicions, the original two would become the five permanent members of the Security Council. The rehashed proposal may be too cumbersome if Security Council differences would be extended to it. But it could prove to be useful if it reflected a unified political will by the permanent five to work together on Iraq. That will have to depend on specific understandings between these countries. It will also depend on whether the U.S. is inclined to reach tacit arrangements with Syria and Iran. It could prove difficult to fix one without the other. Despite their separate contacts with the U.S., and unless new geopolitical facts emerge, these two countries have a long standing strategic alliance not easily scrapped by carrots or sticks. An indication of a possible "softer, gentler" approach to Iran suddenly appeared at Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna where Washington decided not to pursue an earlier effort to bring the matter to the Security Council. Contacts with Syria go through peaks and valleys. However, exchanges of information between the two countries remain open, particularly in the area of dealing with terrorism and also through the Security Council. A major difference from the previous Afghan example is that the U.S. is in full control, having launched a costly campaign with announced objectives. To what extent will it find it appropriate or necessary to share so many others in decision making -- particularly on major issues -- remains to be seen. There is also the growing role of the interim Iraqi institutions, particularly the Governing Council to consider. Although its members were used to dealing with these neighbour countries while in opposition, how would they deal with them now that they are in power. Also, one internal U.N. Secretariat handicap may be lack of discretion among those seeking media attention and photo opportunities. However, a re-polished proposal may just work if well adjusted and effectively planned. Given a new adaptation, it may provide a gracious and convenient framework for all parties. One could also note that the U.S. and Iranian representatives during the past Afghan formula, Ambassadors Madeleine Albright and Kamal Kharazi became their countries' Secretary of State and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Would a successful revival bring similar prospects to the discreet and capable Ambassadors John Negroponte and Javad Zarif?