President Bush won important international support from an
unexpected quarter Thursday, when eight European leaders published
an open letter backing the US position on Iraq.
The statement, drafted by Spanish prime minister Jose Maria
Aznar, will encourage Washington to ignore France and Germany, which
are leading diplomatic efforts to postpone or abandon plans to
"The transatlantic relationship must not become a casualty of the
current Iraqi regime's persistent attempts to threaten world
security.... We must remain united in insisting that [Saddam
Hussein's] regime be disarmed," says the letter, published in 12
European newspapers and The Wall Street Journal.
The statement belies the impression of a concerted European
opposition to a war in Iraq. But it also runs counter to the trend
of European public opinion. Polls have shown that in most countries
upwards of 60 percent oppose a war, with the proportion rising to
about 80 percent if the United Nations does not give its blessing to
The letter was signed by the leaders of Spain, Portugal, Italy,
Britain, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Denmark. They made
their move just days after US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
dismissed Germany and France as "old Europe," and claimed that "vast
numbers" of other European countries were "with the United States."
The declaration, which agreed with the US view that Mr. Hussein's
"long established pattern of deception, denial, and non-compliance
with UN Security Council resolutions is continuing," underscored
divisions on an uncertain continent as the prospect of war looms
President Bush's State of the Union address on Tuesday has done
little to persuade skeptical Europeans that war is the only viable
method of eliminating the threat posed by Hussein. There is a strong
current of opinion among ordinary citizens that an invasion would be
motivated more by Washington's desire for hegemony and for secure
oil supplies than by the goal of disarming Iraq.
Labor Party members of the British Parliament angrily heckled
their leader, Prime Minister Tony Blair, on Wednesday as he defended
his decision to send 30,000 troops to the Gulf. Britain is the only
European country to have committed forces to fight alongside
American soldiers in any invasion of Iraq. But also on Wednesday,
Italy granted US aircraft the right to land on Italian bases for
refueling and other "technical" purposes in the event of a war.
Spain has said the United States could use its bases if military
intervention in Iraq was "inevitable."
European divisions were clear Wednesday at a NATO meeting in
Brussels, when France and Germany, backed by Belgium and Luxembourg,
blocked discussion of a US request that the alliance send planes and
missiles to Turkey to help defend that country against a possible
counterstrike by Iraq in case of war. French and German diplomats
argued that such a move would be premature.
More evidence of the crosscurrents was apparent yesterday when
the European Parliament voted 287 to 209 against a unilateral
American attack on Iraq, endorsing the position that "a preemptive
strike would not be in accordance with international law and the UN
charter and would lead to a deeper crisis."
Behind European misgivings about preparations for war is a desire
"to follow the UN line, and not give in to the pressure of US
unilateralism," says Dominique Moisi, an analyst at the French
Institute for International Relations in Paris. …