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Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the former secretary-general of the United Nations, was also foreign minister of Egypt for 15 years. He spoke from Paris with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels on March 26.

NATHAN GARDELS: The Russians and others on the Security Council say the U.S. war in Iraq is illegal; the United States says it was sanctioned by Resolution 1441 and others allowing "all necessary means" to disarm Saddam. What is your view?

BOUTROS BOUTROS-GHALI: This intervention is illegal. The United States is wrong to say it was sanctioned. But there is also a precedent, Kosovo, which was also illegal. But wrangling over this issue ought to be left to the scholars of tomorrow. What is important now is to think about what ought to be done after the war.

In 1940-41, during the worst period of World War II, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill corresponded about the need for an institution of collective security to avoid another war, planting the seeds for the creation of the United Nations.

So, now, too, we need to focus on what must be done when this war is over. The impact of this intervention is not limited to what is happening on the battlefield, not least by marginalizing all the other key problems in the world, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to North Korea, global warming, AIDS, terrorism.

As I see it, there are four problems of reconciliation:

-- Between the United Nations and public opinion in the United States;

-- Between the Western world and the Arab world. While Arab public opinion is not in favor of Saddam Hussein, it is very much offended by the American and British intervention. The Iraqi people have already suffered so much -- three wars, 12 years of sanctions and, above all, dictatorship.

-- Between Europe and the United States. Today there is a very serious crisis of confidence between France, Germany and Belgium on one side and the United States on the other;

-- Within the European Union, which is divided between those in favor of and against the military intervention.

GARDELS: How important is it that the United Nations administer post-war Iraq and not the United States alone?

BOUTROS-GHALI: It is important for two reasons. A big U.N. role in post-war reconstruction will promote reconciliation between the United Nations and American public opinion. In American eyes, the United Nations has been discredited because the United States was forced to go to Iraq without Security Council approval -- even though, at the same time, they claim Resolution 1441 as their mandate.

The other important dimension is that a major U.N. role will help reconciliation between the Arab world and the United States because it will show the United States does not intend to remain an occupying power in Iraq.

Remember, in both Haiti and Kosovo, the United States dominated the armed intervention. But then Blue Helmets (international troops) took over a few weeks later when security was established. In the case of Kosovo, a U.N. administrator took over. This should follow that pattern.

GARDELS: Do the Iraqi people see the U.S. troops as liberators, or more like the Mongols at the gates of Baghdad in 1258?

BOUTROS-GHALI: It depends on the degree of collateral damage. If there is little, the reaction of the Iraqi people will be positive. Then it will be difficult for all the Arab countries to say anything against the U.S. intervention. But if the damage is great -- you may have fighters determined to die for the defense of Baghdad like the Russians for Stalingrad -- then the whole region will be on the brink of explosion.

GARDELS: Does the United Nations have a role now in conflict resolution? Is it too damaged?

BOUTROS-GHALI: The United Nations will not be the locus of post-war reconciliation. The United Nations itself is a protagonist in this upheaval that must be reconciled with the American public. Whether the damage can be repaired depends on whether there is the political will among the United States and other major powers to give the United Nations a role.

Remember, many problems have been solved outside the United Nations -- the end of the Vietnam War, the end of the Korean war before that. The treaty between Egypt and Israel was done without any participation by the United Nations. The United Nations has never pretended to have a monopoly on the peaceful resolution of disputes.

GARDELS: What then is the role of the United Nations?

BOUTROS-GHALI: The United Nations will be compelled sooner or later to manage globalization since there is no other international organization. Financial flows, environmental degradation, new technology, disease -- all these are global challenges looking for an institutional response. That is the U.N. role in the future.

(c) 2003, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.

For immediate release (Distributed 3/26/03)