11 January 2001

Holbrooke: Iraq Will Be a Major UN Issue for Bush Administration

(UN ambassador reviews issues for 2001)

By Judy Aita Washington File United Nations Correspondent

New York -- Iraq will be one of the major issues facing the incoming Bush administration at the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, the current U.S. ambassador to the world organization said January 11.

At a farewell press conference, Holbrooke cited Kosovo, East Timor, the Middle East, continuing UN reform, and Africa -- along with Iraq -- as the major issues for his successor. After 17 months in the job, Holbrooke is scheduled to leave the United Nations post January 19. President-elect George W. Bush, who takes office on January 20, has not yet named a successor.

The effort to contain Iraq over the past 10 years, "while it is far from satisfactory," has been better than nothing, Holbrooke said. However, "the lack of sufficient solidarity among the enforcing nations and voting nations has undermined" the effort, he added.

The economic embargo imposed after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait remains in force until the UN certifies that Iraq has eliminated its weapons of mass destruction. But nations have violated the sanctions and three permanent members of the UN Security Council have been pressing for the certification. In the meantime, Iraq has refused to allow UN weapons inspectors into the country since December 1998. "Saddam Hussein's activities continue to be unacceptable and, in my view, dangerous to the region and, indeed, to the world," Holbrooke continued, "not only because he possesses the potential for weapons of mass destruction but because of the very nature of his regime.

"His willingness to be cruel internally is not unique in the world, but the combination of that and his willingness to export his problems makes him a clear and present danger at all times," he said.

The Bush administration "will have to deal with this problem, which we inherited from our predecessors and they now inherit from us," Holbrooke said.

But Holbrooke pointed out that the UN agenda "is very full" with other issues as well.

"The Mideast is going to be very tough," he said.

"The status of Kosovo has got to be resolved and that has to be preceded by a Kosovo-wide election." Unlike Bosnia -- where peace talks were held in a closed environment on a U.S. air base in Dayton, Ohio -- the UN, under resolution 1244, is currently administering Kosovo and must have province-wide elections in the next year, he said. "It's going to be a very, very tricky, complicated issue," the ambassador said. He pointed out that the solution in Kosovo "has to be mutually acceptable" to both the government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Kosovar Albanians.

East Timor will also be a major challenge for the United Nations in 2001, he said. "We have to oversee the transition of the first new country of the 21st century. While...(East Timor) is in better shape than most, the secretary general...has raised some concerns."

Naming Sierra Leone, Sudan, Angola, Burundi, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the Congo as needing serious UN attention, Holbrooke said he believes that "Africa should continue to take up at least 50 percent of our attention in the Security Council."

"Our failure to be more aggressive in Sierra Leone against the machete-wielding thugs -- who have now upgraded their machetes to shoulder-held missiles -- was a catastrophic event," the ambassador said.

"The Lome agreement was a disaster. It's implementation was a disaster. UNAMSIL (UN peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone) did not work out well. I'm glad it is going to be restructured. I consider this a very major problem," he said.

Nevertheless, he said, "the Congo....remains the biggest problem."

"We authorized 5,537 peacekeepers in the Congo. We only sent one-tenth of them or less because the situation did not lend itself to an effective peacekeeping mission, Holbrooke said. "The lesson in the Congo was simple: The signatories to the Lusaka process broke the agreements themselves and you can't send an external force to impose peace."

"I'm very dissatisfied with the way we stand in the Congo," he said.

Holbrooke plans to hold a special meeting with members of the Organization of African Unity on Africa's problems on January 17. The ambassador has devoted a significant portion of his time to African issues, visiting the continent several times and devoting the U.S. presidency of the Security Council in January 2000 to African issues, dubbing it "the month of Africa."

Another lingering problem, Holbrooke said, is the fact that the United Nations "has grown continually in importance since the end of the Cold War and yet it has not grown in effectiveness."

That problem, he said, is directly related to the issue of reform, which needs to continue. Every organization needs to constantly reassess itself and reshape itself to meet new challenges and demands, he said.

The successful U.S. effort to get new scales of assessments for the UN regular and peacekeeping budgets that more accurately reflect the economic strength of nations at the beginning of the 21st century is only one part of UN reform, the ambassador stressed.

The General Assembly agreed to a new scale which reduces the U.S. share of the regular budget from 25 percent to 22 percent and reduces the U.S. share of peacekeeping expenses from 31 percent to 27 percent. In response to the change, Senator Jesse Helms, head of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he would agree to the release of some $582 million to pay U.S. arrears. Another $200 million may be paid next year.

"We've...left the United Nations in a stronger position, and America's position in the UN in better shape, and public and congressional support for the UN stronger than it was when we got here," he said.

"I'm proud of what we have accomplished, in fact, and the money we liberated in Washington amounts to an historic turning point in U.S./UN relations, a historic evolution in congressional attitudes toward the UN, and puts the UN in a position to significantly strengthen itself," he said.

"But reform is not yet fully achieved," Holbrooke added. "The UN still has many areas which need to be cleaned up." He mentioned a need to cut staff in the Department of Public Information and criticized the General Assembly's Budget Committee for not accepting all of the secretary general's recommendations to increase staff in the peacekeeping department.

Reforming the Security Council -- that is, increasing the size of the council without sacrificing its effectiveness -- also will be an important issue for the new administration, the ambassador said.

While Holbrooke declined to say what advice on UN issues he has given to Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell, the ambassador did say that he would recommend U.S. support of a second term for Secretary General Kofi Annan if Annan decides to seek one.

Annan, the ambassador said, "has been the best secretary general in the history of the United Nations."

Holbrooke said that as UN ambassador he concentrated solely on UN issues and getting to know personally the representatives of all the UN's 188 other member states. And while he and the mission staff lobbied intensely on UN reform and other issues, he felt that "we were aggressive and assertive, but not arrogant. We dealt with the concerns of every country no matter how small."

"In the scales of assessment issue we had tremendous problems," he said. "We disagreed strongly with some countries we have very close relations with, particularly the European Union, but we did it from a basis of respect."

The ambassador said he hopes his successor "will use this job only as an end in itself, not as a launching pad for larger issues. This is a great job."

"It's been an honor to hold this job," Holbrooke concluded.

Holbrooke is going to the Council on Foreign Relations, where he will be writing on the relationship between the UN and the U.S., the Balkans, and the AIDS pandemic in Africa.