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U.S. Moves To Block Emergency UN War Session

by Thalif Deen

Threatens diplomats not to vote
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- The United States, whose military attack on Iraq has been roundly condemned by the international community, is trying to silence the highest policy-making body at the United Nations: the 191-member General Assembly.

A proposal to summon an emergency session of the General Assembly to discuss Iraq has been stymied by strong opposition from Washington.

"Our capitals are being heavily lobbied by U.S. envoys, who are pressuring us to block any moves to discuss the issue in the General Assembly," a South Asian diplomat told IPS on Thursday.

The pressure has been so intense, he said, that no member state has so far taken the initiative to call for the emergency session.

Richard Sydenham, spokesman for the president of the General Assembly, told IPS that several member states have been talking about the possibility of an emergency session. "But we have had no formal request yet," he added.

In a letter to various member states, the United States has argued that as long as the 15-member Security Council remains "seized" on the matter, the General Assembly has no voice in the current war on Iraq, and must therefore refrain from taking up the issue.

The pressure -- and in some cases implicit threats -- has followed discussions between U.S. envoys and foreign ministry officials in several world capitals.

"We urge you to oppose such a session, and either to vote against or abstain, if the matter is brought to a vote," the U.S. letter said.

The note warned that "a General Assembly session could also further reinforce Iraq's belief that it has divided the international community, and is under no obligation to comply with Security Council resolutions."

"Finally," the letter went on, "we are concerned that the staging of such a divisive session could do additional harm to the United Nations."

In an implied threat, the United States also said that an emergency session on Iraq would be "unhelpful" and viewed as a move "directed against the United States."

The U.S. pressure has been particularly directed at the 116-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the largest single political grouping of developing nations, which until last month was chaired by South Africa, and is currently chaired by Malaysia.

But a statement against the war was issued last week by the NAM "troika" of South Africa, Malaysia and Cuba, which is expected to succeed Malaysia as the next NAM chairman.

Just after U.S. President George W. Bush gave an ultimatum to Iraqi president Saddam Hussein to leave the country last week, the NAM troika said: "We view the imminent unilateral military action by the U.S. and its allies as an illegitimate act of aggression."

Although Malaysia has not formally requested an emergency session on behalf of NAM, the country's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has lashed out at the United States.

Hinting at U.S. pressure on NAM, he said "the United States has no right to dictate or decide the responsibility of the United Nations, since the superpower had no respect for the world body."

Speaking to reporters in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, Mahathir demanded that the United States and its allies stop their aggression and withdraw their troops immediately from Iraq. "The U.S. action was a bad precedent which was dangerous, and would affect every nation," he warned.

As NAM chairman, Mahathir said he would take all necessary steps to build anti-war opinion throughout the world.

U.S. officials also sent the letter to the Caribbean, where the move was condemned. "This country will stand at its peril for whatever cause, not to allow anyone to believe that a unilateral approach of the choosing of the powerful and the mighty has any place in a civilized world," said Barbados' Prime Minister Owen Arthur.

According to diplomatic sources in Geneva, the United States also pressured members of the UN Human Rights Commission, which voted Thursday against a proposed resolution calling for a "special sitting" of the commission to discuss the humanitarian and human rights consequences of the conflict in Iraq.

The resolution, which was opposed by the United States, was co-sponsored by nine countries -- Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Malaysia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Russia, Syria, Sudan and Zimbabwe. But it was rejected by a vote of 18 to 25, with seven abstentions.

Rory Mungoven of Human Rights Watch criticized the vote, pointing out that the UN body should not sit on its hands while a human rights and humanitarian crisis unfolds in Iraq.

"While there's always a risk that a debate like this might become political, that doesn't excuse Western governments for suppressing the issue," he said.

In January, a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) urged UN member states to call for an emergency session of the General Assembly to resolve the crisis in Iraq.

They cited a precedent of what has come to be known as the 'Uniting for Peace' resolution adopted by the Assembly in November 1950, authorizing UN enforcement action in the Korean war.

Since then, when the resolution was adopted with strong U.S. support, 'Uniting for Peace' has been used 10 times, mostly to discuss the Middle East crisis. The 10th emergency session, which focused specifically on the Middle East, took place in August 2002.

But the session remains suspended and can be re-opened any time.

Despite U.S. warnings, several Arab countries opposed to the war on Iraq are pushing for a meeting of the General Assembly.

If they do not get support from NAM, it is likely they will call for a resumption of the suspended session, ostensibly to continue the debate on the Middle East, but it would also include the war on Iraq.

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Albion Monitor March 28, 2003 (

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