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Iraq: U.S. To Make Case For European Support Against Saddam At Munich Security Conference

  • Roland Eggleston

The United States will use an international security conference in Munich this weekend to try to win stronger support from its European allies for military action against Iraq. The conference will be attended by the defense ministers of most European countries. RFE/RL reports that U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld may be asked to reconsider recent unfavorable remarks about Germany.

Munich, 7 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The debate at the international security conference is expected to cover all aspects of the confrontation with Iraq. But it is likely to focus in particular on the reluctance of several European countries to commit themselves to wholehearted support of the U.S. position.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who will open the debate tomorrow, has let it be known he will challenge the Europeans to acknowledge that the evidence presented to the United Nations earlier this week by Secretary of State Colin Powell is sufficient cause for military action.

But the two-day conference will also review Germany's refusal to support hostilities in any circumstances and the French reluctance to commit itself. The conference is also expected to discuss the differences within NATO on measures to protect Turkey in case of a war with Iraq and other internal problems. The reluctance of some countries to help finance the rebuilding of Iraq after a war will also be considered.

There is no fixed agenda for the Munich conference. A conference official, who preferred to remain anonymous, said a clash of opinions was to be expected because the more than 250 delegates included not only government and other political figures but also senior military officers and commentators from U.S. and European think tanks. "The mixture of politicians, military experts, and private commentators means that we get a kaleidoscope of opinion. This year, with Iraq as the main topic, there is sure to be a lot of contradictory views and -- perhaps -- some fireworks," he said.

This year's participants include Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, the defense ministers of Russia, France, Britain, and Spain, and NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson. European Union foreign policy and security chief Javier Solana, the former head of Israeli intelligence, and members of the U.S. Congress will also be in attendance.

The U.S. delegation will also include security experts like Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, who believes a war with Iraq is inevitable.

The conference is taking place against a background of protests against a possible attack on Iraq. Munich Mayor Christian Ude will lead a protest march through the city tomorrow. Another protest rally will be held in the city's main square near the hotel where the conference is taking place. The police estimate that around 13,000 demonstrators will come to Munich from all over Europe.

The front-page headline on one Munich newspaper today reads -- in English -- "Peace, Not War, Mr. Rumsfeld." The city's main newspaper, the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," carries an article saying German and other European intelligence services are skeptical of the evidence presented to the United Nations by Secretary of State Powell this week.

Rumsfeld's reception in Munich is expected to be cool. Germans were surprised this week when he associated Germany with Libya and Cuba as countries which will neither support a war nor assist in the rebuilding of Iraq.

The comment followed his criticism last month of Germany and France for their attitude. He referred to them as being part of what he called "old Europe" which, he said, was making itself less relevant as NATO took in new members from Eastern Europe.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder did not respond to Rumsfeld's comment on Libya and Cuba. But the opposition's spokesman on military affairs, Voelker Ruehe, who is a strong supporter of the U.S., took issue with Rumsfeld's remarks. "What Rumsfeld said about Germany's international role is not correct, regardless of any criticism [of German government policy]. We do a good job in Afghanistan and the Balkans and can in no way be compared to Cuba or Libya," he said.

Conference organizers say Rumsfeld is scheduled to have a private meeting with German Defense Minister Peter Struck. Struck supports giving the United Nations inspectors more time to search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He has also criticized the U.S. for not providing information earlier about the alleged location of weapons of mass destruction.

Schroeder, meanwhile, is not expected to attend the conference. His refusal to support a military offensive against Iran will be defended by Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who speaks after Rumsfeld.

Fischer is expected to make a strong plea for the UN inspectors to be given more time to continue their investigation. He will be followed by the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. Conference officials say Ivanov is expected to comment on both Iraq and Chechnya.

A spokesman said the conference also expects to hear from the East European countries which support U.S. policy. Ten of them this week issued a statement of support for the United States. They are Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Macedonia, Croatia, and Albania. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic last week offered their support as well.

The German opposition leader Angela Merkel and other members of the Christian Democratic Party are expected to emphasize their belief that the Schroeder government's approach to the debate over a possible war has isolated it in Europe and damaged relations with the U.S.

The Munich conference is just a debating forum. It does not reach conclusions or issue resolutions. But its free-for-all format encourages an open debate on international problems which many governments find useful.