Sun, Mar 17, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Iraq issue widens rift in EU


Germany's chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, on Friday brought into the open the growing rift between Britain and continental Europe over taking the "war on terror" to Iraq when he signalled he had no intention of participating in any unilateral military action launched against Baghdad by the US.

In a move that highlighted the breach between Tony Blair and his European partners, Schroder's spokeswoman confirmed a report that Germany would only join in a broadening of the US-led "war on terror" if the action were backed by the UN. "It's a position of principle of which our American partners are also aware," she said.

Further looming problems were underlined Friday when Turkey, a key member of NATO -- whose bases could be needed for military operations -- argued that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein did not constitute a threat to his neighbors. Saudi Arabia has also made clear its opposition to use of its bases.

Schroder's reported remarks chimed with the sceptical stance adopted by Paris. French government sources said Schroder was "pretty much in line" with their view.

"Any kind of military operation should of course exist within that existing UN framework. France agreed to support the US attacks in Afghanistan after September 11 because the situation was new, there was clear proof that al-Qaeda was operating there. The country had been warned, and the strikes were targeted. Iraq is different. It is not new."

Schroder's new stance, that existing UN resolutions were insufficient to justify an attack, is in marked contrast to the increasingly hawkish noises emanating from London about a possible strike on Saddam. It also offered a focus for other continental European leaders known to be uneasy about the possible consequences of an attack on Iraq.

In its two most recent major campaigns -- Afghanistan and Kosovo -- the US has avoided UN involvement, preferring to work with NATO or through impromptu coalitions, of which Britain has consistently been at the forefront.

Speaking in Barcelona following a meeting between Blair and Schroder, Blair's spokesman did little to disguise the differences, saying: "People may come at that discussion from different perspectives, but they share the goal."

British sources believe a return to the UN for a specific mandate for military action would end in failure, largely due to Russian opposition.

The British government has long argued that Iraq is in breach of as many as seven UN resolutions, but also said it will wait to see if Iraq picks up a deal on a new sanctions regime in return for the reintroduction of the UN weapons inspectors. Blair has also said he believes Iraq is in breach of resolution 687 on getting rid of weapons of mass destruction.

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