EU alarm at U.S. posture on Iraq
LONDON, England (CNN) -- Renewed belligerence over Iraq from U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney has not only alarmed U.S. allies in the Middle East, it has raised tensions within the European Union.
Cheney's forceful call on Monday for pre-emptive military action against Iraq and his insistence that the return of U.N. arms inspectors to Iraq would not end U.S. worries about Saddam Hussein's capacity to assemble and use weapons of mass destruction has stepped up the tempo of approaching war.
In the Middle East Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who sent troops into Iraq 10 years ago as part of the U.S.-led Gulf War coalition, has this time warned the U.S. against an attack on Iraq.
He says that while the Arab street is deeply concerned about the continuing violence between Israel and the Palestinian Authority it would be wrong to mount an attack and that many Arab leaders would not be able to contain the outrage among their populations.
Saying that not one Arab state wanted a strike on Iraq, he added: "If you strike Iraq and kill the people of Iraq while Palestinians are being killed by Israel... then not one Arab leader will be able to control the angry outburst of the masses."
Saudi Arabia too has declared through foreign policy adviser Adel al-Jubeir that it does not believe the case has been made for a war against Saddam.
Such warnings have increased concern in Europe where German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, of the Green Party, told Deutschlandfunk Radio that a pre-emptive U.S. strike could lead to a new order in the Middle East. "There is a big question as to whether this consequence has been thought through and discussed in the U.S."
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder , who has said repeatedly that Germany will not participate in any attack on Iraq, called Cheney's remarks a "mistake" and told RTL television on Tuesday that it was wrong of Washington to change the original goal of trying to get the U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq rather than changing the regime there.
Fischer said that Berlin had made its views clear to Washington because Europe, as a neighbour to the Middle East, would be directly affected by hasty action.
And French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin has stressed that even if arms inspectors are not allowed back into Iraq no military action should be taken without a decision from the United Nations Security Council.
The new wave of rhetoric from the U.S. is also deepening the arguments within Europe, where UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has been largely supportive of U.S. warnings on the need for action against Iraq to prevent the collection and use of weapons of mass destruction.
Louis Michel, the ever-outspoken Belgian Foreign Minister, told the Belgian daily newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws that Blair was undermining the rest of the European Union.
"Morally and politically we could take charge in the world. But the UK are blocking that. They still don't understand they could play a pioneer role in Europe instead of submissively following the U.S.."
British officials shrugged off Michel's remarks but Jack Straw, the UK Foreign Secretary, criticised Schroeder by implication when he said in Scotland on Tuesday: "We don't rule out the possibility of military action and neither in our view should anybody else."
Even the UK, however, stops short of Cheney's position of favouring a pre-emptive strike.
Blair and his Cabinet face strong criticism at the upcoming Labour Party conference over their stance on Iraq. A majority of Labour supporters oppose military action against Iraq and significantly Straw has been stressing the need for maximum effort at this stage to get the weapons inspectors back into Iraq with unfettered access.
He told the BBC: " We are clear that we want to see these inspectors back in without conditions and restraints. If they were able to do their job in those circumstances and if they were able to say ' we are satisfied that no continuing threat arises' or 'we believe there is a continuing threat' then we would be in a better position to make a decision about military action."
Even the United States' staunchest ally in Europe still prefers the diplomatic course to the military one at this stage. Straw and Blair continue to stress that no decision on action has yet been made, either in the UK or in the United States.
But EU nations have noted with alarm what they see as growing unilateralist attitudes in the U.S., their fears increased by the parallel chosen by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He told an audience of U.S. marines that President Bush's warnings about Saddam were like Winston Churchill's warnings about the rise of Adolf Hitler.
"It wasn't until each country in Europe got attacked that they said. 'Maybe Winston Churchill was right. Maybe that lone voice expressing concern about what was happening was right.'"
His follow up -- that it is better to be right than to win unanimity for your actions is sending a chill around unwilling European capitals.
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