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Europe: Leaders Mull Implications Of Powell Speech To Security Council

  • Breffni O'Rourke

Europe is reacting cautiously to yesterday's key address to the UN Security Council by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell said intelligence shows "undeniably" that Iraq is violating its disarmament obligations, is thus in "material breach" of Resolution 1441 and must face the "serious consequences" noted in the resolution. But has his speech been enough to swing the antiwar camp to the American line?

Prague, 6 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The address of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to the UN Security Council on the dangers posed by Iraq does not appear, initially at least, to have changed entrenched positions in Europe.

European and world leaders are still considering the implications of yesterday's speech, in which Powell used satellite images and intercepted Iraqi communications to support Washington's contention that Iraq has been systematically deceiving UN arms inspectors. He argued that military action may be necessary against the Baghdad regime.

Although Powell's presentation was powerful, it does not appear to have changed the positions of many nations in Europe -- in particular, France and Germany, the two major European opponents of the tough U.S. line toward Iraq's President Saddam Hussein.

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of Germany -- which holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council -- spoke after Powell's presentation. "The dangers of a military action and its consequences are plain to see. Precisely because of the effectiveness of the work of the inspectors, we must continue to seek a peaceful solution to the crisis," Fischer said.

Germany rejects the use of force, even if it is permitted by a new UN resolution. France similarly seeks to avoid military solutions, but unlike Berlin, sees it as justified if used as a final resort, after all hopes of a diplomatic solution are exhausted.

Returning to Paris today, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said France rejects any new UN resolution that would open the way for war against Iraq. Earlier, at the UN, he said: "We must strengthen the path of inspections chosen by Resolution 1441, which has not yet been explored to the limit. The use of force can only be our last recourse. Why go to war while there are still options in Resolution 1441 that have not been used?"

Predictably, the Powell speech only strengthened the resolve of Britain, the staunchest ally of the United States in Europe. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, speaking after Powell's speech, said: "Given what has to follow, and the difficult choice now facing us, it would be easy to turn a blind eye to the wording of Resolution 1441 and hope for a change of heart by Iraq -- easy, but wrong -- because if we did so, we would be repeating the mistakes of the past 12 years and empowering a dictator who believes that his diseases and poison gases are essential weapons to suppress his own people and to threaten his neighbors."

The situation means that the Security Council remains divided over Iraq, with Germany plus veto-holding members Russia, France, and China saying they still do not support a military attack on Iraq and that Baghdad should cooperate fully with continued weapons inspections.

The need to continue with the UN arms inspections is a recurring theme of the European stances. Analyst Jean Pascal Zanders of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute takes up the point that the Powell briefing could just as easily be used to justify strengthening the arms inspection regime. "The presentation by Colin Powell was trying to present an argument which could justify military action inside Iraq. But if you take the same information and interpret it in the function of strengthening inspectors' activities, in terms of strengthening the verification regime in Iraq, I think you can come to similar conclusions," Zanders said.

Zanders, therefore, believes that, in the minds of many Europeans, Powell has not provided a case for going to war now. He said that the coming report by chief arms inspector Hans Blix on 14 February on Iraqi compliance is more likely to change opinion in favor of war -- if it is as critical as Blix's last report to the UN at the end of January.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohammad el-Baradei, speaking today in London, referred to the crucial nature of the 14 February report. "I think the message coming from the Security Council is very clear, that Iraq is not cooperating fully, that they need to show drastic change in terms of cooperation. The message also coming from the Security Council is that time is very critical and that we need to show progress in our report, which will be due on the 14th of this month," el-Baradei said.

Meanwhile, the tough U.S. line against Baghdad received strong backing at the UN yesterday from 10 mainly small European states -- Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

The nations of the so-called Vilnius 10 said in a statement that they understand the danger posed by tyranny and offered to contribute to an international coalition to disarm Iraq if military action becomes necessary.

Their support adds to that expressed in last week's open letter to the United States by the leaders of nine EU members and candidate states.

At the White House, addressing concerns that the United States is set on a military solution to the Iraq crisis to the exclusion of further diplomacy, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said no time limit has been set for disarming Saddam. He said Washington will wait and see how people respond to the message that Powell conveyed.