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Syria Trapped In Corner On Iraq Vote

by George Baghdadi

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(IPS) DAMASCUS -- France and the U.S. leaned heavily on Syria to vote for the United Nations resolution on Iraq after some fears that it might abstain.

A call from the office of French President Jacques Chirac to Syrian leaders helped nudge Syria towards voting with the rest, officials here say. Chirac had visited Damascus last month.

France advised Syria that a "yes" vote would help it break out of the political and economic isolation it faces, officials said.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell sent a letter to Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara saying that a unanimous vote would "serve to avoid a future military confrontation."

There are fears in Damascus that if war does break out, Syria could be next in line. "Syria fears also that Israel could use a war with Iraq as cover for action against Syria," an analyst said.

Syrian officials had before them the example of Yemen which voted against a United Nations Security Council resolution approving the Gulf War in 1990. The U.S. cut off aid to Yemen. One official called Yemen's vote "the most expensive 'no' in history."

After the last eight weeks of intense negotiations, there had been little doubt that the resolution drafted by the U.S. and co-sponsored by Britain would be adopted with broad support. But unanimity had still appeared a dream, largely because of Syria, the only Arab member of the 15-member Security Council.

The resolution which was passed unanimously by council members Friday requires Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to cooperate fully with UN weapons inspectors, and warns of "serious consequences" if Baghdad fails to cooperate.

The resolution gives Iraq until Nov. 15 to notify the UN of its readiness to comply, and 30 days to disclose details of its weapons capabilities.

Syria's deputy UN envoy, Faysal Mekdad, said his country voted after receiving assurances from key nations "that this resolution would not be used as a pretext to strike Iraq" and because it "reaffirms the central role of the Security Council."

Patrick Seale, a Syria expert and biographer of the late Syrian President Hafez Assad, says Syria voted for the revised resolution because it does not automatically trigger war and because it incorporates changes proposed by France.

"The resolution in its final form amounts to a significant victory for multilateralism over American unilateralism," Dr. Imad Fawzi Shuaibi, a professor at Damascus University told IPS. "At the same time it gives Saddam a final opportunity to cooperate with inspectors, holds out the possibility of lifting 12-year-old sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and reaffirms the country's sovereignty."

But other analysts say Syria had no choice. "Syria voted yes because once France, Russia and China were on board, opposition was a lost cause and Syria didn't want to be the odd one out," said one analyst. "For Syria the priority is the Israeli-Palestinian issue," he said. "It does not want to be in the bad books of the U.S. on this point."

Syrian leaders say they have expressed the Arab view in the vote. "In the Arab world they don't want war against Iraq," Mekdad told media representatives after the vote. "They want to solve the issue in peaceful ways and want to solve all other problems in the region."

Syria is keen to go with the UN for its own reasons. It has depended on UN Security Council resolutions in its diplomatic campaign to force Israel to return the Golan Heights and other land seized in the 1967 war.

The Syrian vote is unlikely to create difficulties with its Arab neighbors. "We have always respected Security Council resolutions," said Hisham Youssef, spokesman for the Arab League. "Many Arab countries have already indicated that once the Security Council votes, the resolution will be respected."

Arab views were being discussed at a meeting of foreign ministers from the 22 members of the Arab League to in Cairo Saturday.

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Albion Monitor November 9 2002 (

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