ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And so it now appears that the matter of Syria's chemical weapons goes to the United Nations Security Council. Of the council's 15 members, five are permanent - the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France - each of them has veto power. The other 10 members are elected to two-year terms by the general assembly. The presidency of the council rotates in monthly shifts. In 1990 when the council voted to order Iraq out of Kuwait, David Hanney was Britain's top man at the U.N. and sat at the Security Council. He is now retired from diplomatic service but sits in the House of Lords. And as Lord Hanney, he joins us now from London. Welcome to the program.
LORD DAVID HANNEY: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Do deals actually get done in the Security Council, or do we merely hear theatrical presentations of positions?
HANNEY: Well, a bit of both. They do get done, particularly over detail drafting points. But often, in a highly politicized issue, and of course, chemical weapons in Syria is one of those, quite a lot of the negotiation will also go on between capitals, particularly between the capitals of the permanent members.
SIEGEL: How much room to maneuver do diplomats at the council itself have during these discussions?
HANNEY: Well, that depends too. In 1990, which you spoke about when the council was about to authorize the use of force to eject Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, we had no scope for negotiation whatsoever. The texts were agreed between Washington, Paris and London, and we were not prepared to take any amendments to those texts at all. And they were voted through by a big majority with no vetoes.
SIEGEL: But you continued to have discussions with the other members of the council even though you know that you're not going to budge at all during that time.
HANNEY: Yeah. We explained very carefully why the resolution in question - and this was an exceptional one - was worded as it was worded. And we sat for as long as the other members of the council wished to sit, answering their questions. But we were not prepared on that occasion to entertain any changes.
SIEGEL: Well, if this matter does in fact go to the Security Council, we start with, say, the French proposing something, which would be taking some Syrian officials before the International Criminal Court, that we assume is utterly unacceptable to the Russians, and the Russians saying the threat of force has to be taken off the table before the Syrians would disarm. That seems to be irreconcilable. What kind of a chance do you give this?
HANNEY: Well, I think the issue of the threat of force if Syria were to renege or not comply with a Security Council Resolution has to remain in existence. It doesn't necessarily have to be in the resolution because, after all, until this latest development occurred, the assumption was that the United States, France and a number of other allies were going to take action without authority from the Security Council. So there's no reason why that situation couldn't recur if Syria reneged on its undertakings or rejected a Security Council resolution.
SIEGEL: Can you recall an instance of a permanent member relenting on a veto, beginning the process by saying there's no way we'll accept this, we'll block it, and whether after diplomacy, capital to capital, or whether something that's said at the U.N., that country would change its mind?
HANNEY: Well, I think you have to remember that the vetoes that Russia and China have deployed in the case of Syria have been for a whole number of different things. In my view, some of them completely unjustified like blocking giving legal force to Kofi Annan's peace agreement, which he put to the council. And they have vetoed, of course, every suggestion of the use of force. But they have not vetoed, in that sequence of vetoes, anything that relates to chemical weapons.
That has not yet been on the table in the Security Council, and it does look as if that might be more promising ground. But we will have to see. It's very early days yet. And I think a lot will depend on the detail, and that detail needs to be really clear because what we can't afford is a long cat-and-mouse process of the sort that we had in Iraq.
SIEGEL: David, Lord Hanney, thank you very much for talking with us today.
HANNEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.