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Boutros Boutros-Ghali is the former secretary general of the United Nations. He spoke from his home in Paris with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels on May 6.

NATHAN GARDELS: What is the global impact of the revelations of torture by U.S. forces in Iraq and the photos circulating around the world?

BOUTROS BOUTROS-GHALI: First of all, the image of the United State has become very negative, especially in the Arab world.

Second, these revelations damage the role of organizations all around the world that deal with the protection of human rights and humanitarian law in the time of war. I am the president of the Egyptian Commission on Human Rights. It will be more difficult for me now to say, "Look, the international community is demanding that we clean up the human rights situation, to take care of this or that." The response will be: "The superpower is not respecting human rights in Iraq or Guantanamo," so the pressure is off. Different governments all over the world will say that security is more important than the protection of human rights, that in the case of terrorist action we can ignore human rights.

Third, these photos are a gift to Al Qaeda and to other terrorist groups that will be formed in the future, all over the world.

To be dynamic, terrorism needs a war. Terrorism has grown as a result of the wars in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya. Terrorists were trained in these places. They obtained arms there. These wars helped them find recruits and mobilize young terrorists.

We have the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And we have the war inside Iraq. The terrorists need this war. Nothing is more important to them. The day you have no more war in Iraq and Chechnya or confrontation in Palestine, then terrorism will wither.

The aim of the international community after 9/11 was to fight terrorism. Through the war in Iraq we aren't fighting terrorism but stimulating it.

GARDELS: Coming on top of the siege of Fallouja, in which many civilians were killed, and the U.S. embrace of the Sharon plan, would you say that America has lost the battle for the hearts and minds of the Arab world?

BOUTROS-GHALI: It has certainly complicated the efforts of those who seek democratization in the Arab world, as the United States has been pushing. As great as it is, though, we must not exaggerate the negative impact. Historically, the United States has done many good things, from its role in World War I and II and the Marshall Plan to giving birth to both the League of Nations and the United Nations.

GARDELS: Do you think Arab public opinion would support your view that the positives outweigh the negatives?

BOUTROS-GHALI: No, because of the subjective attitude taken by the United States in favor of the Israelis over the Palestinians. Everybody agrees there is only one mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the United States. Yet, for 50 years the United States has not resolved this conflict. That is because it is not an objective mediator. As result, the whole world sees the Arabs and Muslims as the underdog.

GARDELS: When U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said recently, to much controversy, that Israel poisoned all issues in the Middle East, he was, objectively speaking, correct?

BOUTROS-GHALI: The fact that there has been no solution to the Palestinian problems complicates everything else in the region. This is true. As I said, the conflict is only fueling extremism and terrorism.

GARDELS: The United States bypassed the U.N. Security Council on its unilateral march to war. Now it has had to ask the United Nations back in to help legitimate the transfer of sovereignty back to Iraqis. What does that say about the role of the United Nations?

BOUTROS-GHALI: It is not clear what the U.N. role will be in Iraq. American troops will remain on the ground. The interim Iraqi government will be weak; it will be a government of transition preparing for general elections in January, 2005. Will the U.N. role be only to assist in getting ready for elections? Or will it be involved in reconstruction? What will be the division of power among the Iraqis, the Americans and the United Nations?

None of this is clear. What is clear is that the Security Council is no longer divided between those who wanted war and those who didn't. Now there is a consensus that, together, we must put an end to this war and make peace-building work, that the Iraq transition and reconstruction can't be allowed to fail and fall into civil war. Everybody understands this, even those who opposed the U.S. invasion.

The United Nations has great experience with many of the issues Iraq now faces. There is, for example, the classic problem of national reconciliation among divided peoples which the United Nations has been able to solve on a smaller scale in El Salvador, Mozambique and Cambodia.

The United Nations also has relevant experience with key problems such as integrating former members of the military or rebel forces within a newly established military. These tasks require diplomacy. They must be done either by the United Nations or the military coalition.

At present, however, there is a crisis of credibility between the Iraqi people and the U.S.-backed Governing Council and the U.S.-led coalition. The only way to overcome that is for the U.N. participation to be real and not just camouflage or a decoration that hides a continuing American presence. If the perception of the Iraqi people is that there is no difference between the role of the United Nations and the United States, then the U.N. role will not be very constructive.

GARDELS: What does the necessary re-involvement of the United Nations in Iraq say about the limits of the American superpower?

BOUTROS-GHALI: There are two limits: One, public opinion in the United States does not favor the United States playing the role of global policeman. Two, whatever the power of the United States, it doesn't have the capacity on its own to cope with Iraq, let alone all the other crises that have emerged simultaneously around the world -- war in the south of Sudan and genocide in Darfur, Ivory Coast, Colombia, Georgia. Even if it is outside the framework of the United Nations, the United States needs allies and a multilateral approach for this multitude of problems. Even as the No. 1 global power, it needs others.

(c) 2004, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 5/6/04)