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US Heavily Pressed Allies On War, Book Says

by Colum Lynch

UNITED NATIONS - 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 pushed 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, wrote Heraldo Munoz, Chile's ambassador to the United Nations, 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, Munoz wrote.

But the tough talk dissipated as the war effort worsened and President Bush came to reach out to many of the same allies that he had spurned. Munoz's account suggests the US strategy backfired in Latin America, damaging the administration's standing in a region that has long been dubious of US military intervention.

Munoz details key roles by Chile and Mexico, the Security Council's two Latino members at the time, in the run-up to the war. Then-UN ambassadors Juan Gabriel Valdes 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 France's looming 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,' " Munoz wrote. "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 shot at demonstrating that it had fully complied with its disarmament requirements.

On March 14, 2003, less than one week before the eventual invasion, Chile hosted a meeting of diplomats from the six undecided governments to discuss its proposal. But US ambassador John Negroponte and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell moved quickly to quash the initiative, warning their governments that the effort was viewed as "an unfriendly act" designed to isolate the United States. In the days after the invasion, the National Security Council's top Latin American specialist , John Maistos, invited Munoz 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."

Munoz said subsequent ties 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. Munoz 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 postwar rehabilitation. The US-Chilean free trade agreement, while delayed, was finally signed by Zoellick in June 2003.

© 2008 The Washington Post

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