The task of this month's Security Council chairman U.S. ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who'll have to find a new nominee unless Russia backs down on Ekeus is made more difficult by the growing anti-U.S. drift in Moscow's foreign policy. Although Russia has long opposed Washington's policy in the Gulf, its opposition hasn't been particularly forceful. But with a new strategic doctrine that explicitly views the U.S. as an adversary whose influence is to be curbed, Moscow may not be inclined to help Washington out of a tight spot. On the other hand, Russia can't afford to push too far. Says Dowell, "Russia and France are both aware that if they make the Security Council unworkable, they'll be left on the sidelines in international decision-making." And so goes the great diplomatic chess game at the U.N. Your move, Dick.
Washington may not want Iraq policy in the spotlight during an election year, but why should Moscow care? Russia made life difficult for the U.S. Monday by formally rejecting Kofi Annan's nomination of Swedish diplomat Rolf Ekeus to head up a new U.N. weapons-monitoring commission in Iraq. Ekeus, a former head of the soon-to-be-disbanded UNSCOM, had been widely viewed as being both sufficiently diplomatic and sufficiently forceful to get the job done, but the Russian veto reflects deep divisions in the Security Council over the future of sanctions against Iraq. "The U.S. wants the new monitoring system as a basis to maintain sanctions against Iraq," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "But the Russians and the French are deeply opposed to sanctions, and favor a fairly toothless monitoring system. But accepting an obviously weak monitoring system leaves the Clinton administration open to Republican attack." At the same time, Washington will be left isolated on sanctions if its pushes for a monitoring system so intrusive that Iraq refuses to allow it back in.