Colum Lynch / Washington Post – 2008-03-23 22:06:30
US Pushed Allies on Iraq, Diplomat Writes
UNITED NATIONS (March 23, 2008) — In the months leading up to the US-led invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration threatened trade reprisals against friendly countries who withheld their support, spied on its allies, and pressed for the recall of UN envoys that resisted US pressure to endorse the war, according to an upcoming book by a top Chilean diplomat.
The rough-and-tumble diplomatic strategy has generated lasting “bitterness” and “deep mistrust” in Washington’s relations with allies in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere, Heraldo Muñoz, Chile’s ambassador to the United Nations, writes in his book A Solitary War: A Diplomat’s Chronicle of the Iraq War and Its Lessons, set for publication next month.
“In the aftermath of the invasion, allies loyal to the United States were rejected, mocked and even punished” for their refusal to back a UN resolution authorizing military action against Saddam Hussein’s government, Muñoz writes.
But the tough talk dissipated as the war situation worsened, and President Bush came to reach out to many of the same allies that he had spurned. Muñoz’s account suggests that the US strategy backfired in Latin America, damaging the administration’s standing in a region that has long been dubious of US military intervention.
MuÑoz details key roles by Chile and Mexico, the Security Council’s two Latin members at the time, in the run-up to the war: Then-UN Ambassadors Juan Gabriel ValdÑs of Chile and Adolfo Aguilar Zinser of Mexico helped thwart US and British efforts to rally support among the council’s six undecided members for a resolution authorizing the US-led invasion.
The book portrays Bush personally prodding the leaders of those six governments — Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan — to support the war resolution, a strategy aimed at demonstrating broad support for US military plans, despite the French threat to veto the resolution.
In the weeks preceding the war, Bush made several appeals to Chilean President Ricardo Lagos and Mexican President Vicente Fox to rein in their diplomats and support US war aims. “We have problems with your ambassador at the UN,” Bush told Fox at a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Los Cabos, Mexico, in late 2002.
“It’s time to bring up the vote, Ricardo. We’ve had this debate too long,” Bush told the Chilean president on March 11, 2003.
“Bush had referred to Lagos by his first name, but as the conversation drew to a close and Lagos refused to support the resolution as it stood, Bush shifted to a cool and aloof ‘Mr. President,'” Muñoz writes. “Next Monday, time is up,” Bush told Lagos.
Senior US diplomats sought to thwart a last-minute attempt by Chile to broker a compromise that would delay military action for weeks, providing Iraq with a final chance to demonstrate that it had fully complied with disarmament requirements.
On March 14, 2003, less than one week before the invasion, Chile hosted a meeting of diplomats from the six undecided governments to discuss its proposal. But then-US Ambassador John D. Negroponte and then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell moved quickly to quash the initiative, warning them that the effort was viewed as “an unfriendly act” designed to isolate the United States. The diplomats received calls from their governments ordering them to “leave the meeting immediately,” Muñoz writes.
Aguilar Zinser, who died in 2005, was forced out of the Mexican government after publicly accusing the United States of treating Mexico like its “back yard” during the war negotiations. Valdés was transferred to Argentina, where he served as Chile’s top envoy, and Muñoz, a Chilean minister and onetime classmate of Condoleezza Rice at the University of Denver, was sent to the United Nations in June 2003 to patch up relations with the United States.
In the days after the invasion, the National Security Council’s top Latin American expert, John F. Maisto, invited Muñoz to the White House to convey the message to Lagos, that his country’s position at the United Nations had jeopardized prospects for the speedy Senate ratification of a free-trade pact. “Chile has lost some influence,” he said. “President Bush is truly disappointed with Lagos, but he is furious with Fox. With Mexico, the president feels betrayed; with Chile, frustrated and let down.”
Muñoz said relations remained tense at the United Nations, where the United States sought support for resolutions authorizing the occupation of Iraq. He said that small countries met privately in a secure room at the German mission that was impervious to suspected US eavesdropping. “It reminded me of a submarine or a giant safe,” Muñoz said in an interview.
The United States, he added, expressed “its displeasure” to the German government every time they held a meeting in the secure room. “They couldn’t listen to what was going on.”
Muñoz said that threats of reprisals were short-lived as Washington quickly found itself reaching out to Chile, Mexico and other countries to support Iraq’s messy postwar rehabilitation. It also sought support from Chile on issues such as peacekeeping in Haiti and support for US efforts to drive Syria out of Lebanon. The US-Chilean free trade agreement, while delayed, was finally signed by then-US Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick in June 2003.
Muñoz said that Rice, as secretary of state, called him to ask for help on a UN resolution that would press for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. The United States had secured eight of the nine votes required for adoption of a resolution in the Security Council. Muñoz had received instructions to abstain. “I talked to [Lagos], and he listened to my argument, and we gave them the ninth vote,” he said.
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