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Iraq: Russia, China Lead Criticism Of U.S. Attack

Russia, China, France, and Germany -- countries all strongly opposed to military action in Iraq -- led a chorus of voices today condemning the U.S. missile attack on Baghdad. Expressions of criticism and concern were heard in many places around the world -- from the European Union to New Zealand. America's allies in Eastern and Central Europe and in Asia were more supportive.

Prague, 20 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin today led a chorus of international reaction -- much of it negative -- following early-morning U.S. missile strikes on Baghdad.

Putin, speaking to ministers in the Kremlin, said the U.S.-led war in Iraq was a "big political mistake." He said military action is being conducted "in spite of the principles and norms of international law," and called on the U.S. to halt the attack.

His comments were echoed in China. Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said, in China's view, military action against Iraq violates the norms of international behavior.

Kong said the attack "ignores the opposition of most countries and peoples of the world and goes around the UN Security Council, which constitutes a violation of the UN Charter and basic norms of international law." He said China expresses "grave concern," and "strongly [urges] relevant countries to immediately stop military action and go back to the correct path of finding a political settlement and seeking the best way to solve the Iraq problem within the UN framework."

Both Russia and China are permanent members of the UN Security Council, and both had strongly opposed the use of force against Iraq.

France, which led opposition to military action on the Security Council, said it was "deeply concerned" by the onset of war in Iraq.

French President Jacques Chirac said France regretted the outbreak of war and saw serious consequences for the future, regardless of how long the hostilities last.

"France regrets this action taken without the approval of the United Nations. I hope these operations are as quick as possible, with the fewest fatalities, and that they do not lead to a humanitarian catastrophe."

In Berlin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called the outbreak of hostilities "regrettable." Germany holds a rotating seat on the Security Council and was also a strong opponent of war.

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency, expressed regret that the Iraqi crisis had not been solved peacefully by the international community. He said the EU's relations with the United States are going through what he called "a significant crisis" because of Iraq, and called for "a frank and open trans-Atlantic dialogue."

America's allies in Eastern and Central Europe were, on balance, more supportive.

Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano, whose government has offered 70 noncombat troops, was quoted today as saying, "We Albanians are a nation of freedom-fighters who know something about living under oppression. That is why we wholeheartedly support the American-led effort to free the people of Iraq."

President Rudolf Schuster of Slovakia, which -- together with the neighboring Czech Republic -- has sent antichemical warfare specialists to Kuwait, said his government would not shirk from the operation to disarm Iraq "and rid its suffering people of unbearable tyranny."

Hungary's prime minister, Peter Medgyessy, whose government has opened a military base for the U.S. army to train Iraqi dissidents for noncombat support roles, said the use of military force had become "unavoidable," but he hoped the conflict would end quickly and with a minimum of casualties.

The U.S. also found support among its traditional allies in Asia.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said his country's military forces have joined the United States and Britain in combat against Iraq. Australia has committed some 2,000 military personnel to the U.S.-led coalition.

Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he backs the U.S. action because, in his view, Iraq had "mocked" the United Nations.

"Unfortunately, throughout this period, Iraq did not heed the warnings from the United Nations, or thought lightly of them; it mocked the United Nations. Iraq did not show a sincere attitude. Due to this, I understand and support the start of the use of military force [against Iraq] by the United States."

Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was also supportive. She said, "The Philippines is part of the coalition of the willing. We are giving political and moral support for actions to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction."

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, speaking today in Seoul, said, "At the National Security Council, we decided to support the measure of the United States and other members of the international community."

He added that the war "was an unavoidable step taken to eradicate weapons of mass destruction after the failure of diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue peacefully."

In other reaction, the Vatican condemned the U.S. attack as a "defeat for reason." Cardinal Roberto Tucci, speaking on Vatican Radio, said the war is "beyond all legality and all international legitimacy." He said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein bore what he said was an "enormous responsibility" for the war, but he also criticized the United States.

Pakistan's information minister, Sheikh Rashid, expressed regret over the start of the war. He said Pakistan sympathizes with the Iraqi people, and emphasized the United Nations did not approve the war.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi described the U.S. attack as "a black mark on history." He said the world is now witnessing that "might [power] is right."

"The world is now at a critical juncture following the action of the United States and its allies, which will go down as a black mark in history," he said. The United States, as "a large and powerful nation, along with its allies, has acted with disregard for international law, humanity and universal justice. It has launched an attack against a sovereign state that has diminished capacity to defend itself."

The president of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim state, Megawati Sukarnoputri, urged the UN Security Council to hold an emergency meeting and also called on the United States to halt the war.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark reiterated her government's opposition to the war.

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    Mark Baker

    Mark Baker is a freelance journalist and travel writer based in Prague. He has written guidebooks and articles for Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodor’s, and his articles have also appeared in National Geographic Traveler and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.