US-Europe divisions deepen

John O'Neill johnfergaloneill at
Tue Feb 11 12:56:54 MST 2003

US-Europe divisions deepen as opposition to war builds

  Political and moral pressure against a US-led war with Iraq built up
yesterday in Europe and at the United Nations, as divisions between the US
and its main European allies deepened in a furious row over the use of NATO
to prepare for conflict, write Conor O'Clery in New York and Denis Staunton
in Brussels

NATO was facing one of the worst crises in its 54-year history last night
after France, Germany and Belgium blocked a proposal to strengthen Turkey's
defences against a possible attack from Iraq.

An unprecedented emergency meeting of NATO ambassadors in Brussels broke up
yesterday without agreement and is set to resume this morning.

In New York, the UN Secretary General, Mr Kofi Annan, announced that he
would call a meeting of the Security Council on Thursday to discuss the
humanitarian aspects of a US attack on Iraq.

The meeting will take place a day before the chief UN weapons inspectors, Dr
Hans Blix and Dr Mohamed El Baradei, are due to report on their weekend
discussions with Iraqi officials in Baghdad.

The US Secretary of State, Mr Colin Powell, said if the report showed Iraq
was still not co-operating, the Security Council should "start considering a
resolution that says Iraq is in material breach and it is time for serious
consequences to follow".

Iraq yesterday gave in to inspectors' demands for the use of U-2
surveillance aircraft by weapons inspectors, which will encourage Security
Council members opposed to war to argue that inspections are working.

"The inspectors are now free to use the American U-2s as well as French and
Russian planes," the Iraqi Ambassador, Mr Mohamed al-Douri, said at the UN,
reversing previous Iraq policy. "Everything is resolved now. We are trying
to avoid war by all means."

The Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, said US and British aircraft should
halt their sporadic air raids during the surveillance flights. The US
response to the Iraqi move was instantly dismissive.

"The bottom line is the president is interested in disarmament. This does
nothing to change that," a White House spokesman said.

US attempts to rally the Security Council behind a new resolution approving
the use of force to disarm Iraq sustained a major setback in Paris, where
France, Russia and Germany made a joint appeal yesterday for the peaceful
disarmament of Iraq.

President Jacques Chirac of France said after talks with the Russian
President, Mr Vladimir Putin, that they agreed upon a joint declaration
saying war should be the last resort and that weapons inspections in Iraq
could be increased and extended.

The veto by France, Germany and Belgium against making war preparations in
Turkey has infuriated US officials. Mr Powell said NATO had a legal
obligation to assist Turkey when it asked for help and should make sure that
Turkey "is not put at any risk".

The US Defence Secretary,Mr Donald Rumsfeld, said they had made a "mistake"
and that three of the 19 NATO countries were now "isolated from the rest of
the NATO alliance".

NATO's secretary general, Lord Robertson, described yesterday's meeting as
"very heated". The row "is a matter of enormous consequence for this
alliance and therefore people are taking it very seriously", he said.

"NATO is now facing a crisis of credibility," the US ambassador to NATO, Mr
Nicholas Burns, said.

Lord Robertson last week asked NATO to approve the sending of Patriot
missiles, AWACS surveillance aircraft and anti-chemical and anti-biological
warfare equipment to Turkey, which is a NATO member. France and Belgium
objected formally, with German support, on the grounds that it would send
the wrong message while diplomacy was still being tried.

By calling a meeting of the Security Council to discuss a possible
humanitarian crisis in Iraq, Mr Annan has stepped up moral pressure against
war. He will follow with a visit to Pope John Paul in Rome on February 19th
or 20th.

© The Irish Times

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