Washington looks set to award prizes and punishments to countries that supported or opposed the Iraq war. Poland looks set to take the grand prize -- its own stability force in Iraq paid for by Washington -- while new reports suggest that relations between France and America could go from bad to worse.
Washington, 7 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Rather than let bygones be bygones, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush appears set to reward backers of the war in Iraq and punish others, such as France, for obstructing its efforts to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
The biggest payoff for support in Iraq appears to be going to Poland, which is set to take command of a multinational stabilization force in one of three military zones the United States intends to establish in Iraq. The other two areas will be led by the United States and its closest ally, Britain.
Officials in Warsaw say the high-profile role would represent a historic step for Poland, and provide a testing ground for its leadership potential. Poland has also asked Germany and Denmark to join the stability force.
Warsaw has also put up former Finance Minister Marek Belka, a U.S.-trained economist, to become deputy head of the U.S. administrative body for Iraq, the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs.
Yesterday, Secretary of State Colin Powell thanked Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz for support during the tough prewar debate and the war itself, to which Warsaw contributed some 200 troops, a ship, and an antichemical weapons unit.
"The Polish people have been good friends to the United States and, more importantly, good friends to the people of Iraq, willing to join a coalition that liberated the people of Iraq," Powell said.
Meanwhile, in what would be another sign of U.S. gratitude, media reports say President Bush will make a stopover in Poland on his way to a summit in Russia later this month.
But as Poland basks in the limelight as a key partner of the world's sole superpower, other U.S. allies aren't faring as well in Washington.
Yesterday, a respected reporter for "The Washington Times" quoted unidentified U.S. intelligence officials as saying that France enabled members of the former Iraqi regime to escape to Europe by providing them with visas in Syria.
Ironically, the report surfaced the day after Washington and Paris agreed to jointly lead a new study on how to use new biologically based technologies to prevent forgeries of passports and other travel documents.
The French Embassy in Washington vehemently denied the visa story. Neither the White House nor the State Department could corroborate the allegation.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a briefing yesterday: "I think each of the nations will have to account for their past behavior, what they may or may not have done."
According to Nile Gardiner, a British-born analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, Boucher was clearly talking about France, Germany, and Russia -- the nations that led world opposition to the war in Iraq.
With the war over, Gardiner tells RFE/RL that the Bush administration is making sure there are definite rewards for those who supported U.S. policy and clear consequences for those who sought to undermine it.
"I think the United States is clearly rewarding those nations that were loyal and which supported the U.S.-British military action," Gardiner said. "And the U.S. is taking certain steps against those nations that sided in many ways with the Iraqi regime. And I think the French, the Russians, and the Germans fall into that category."
What steps, if any, Washington may take against France is unclear, Gardiner says. Recently, Powell and other officials said Paris would have to suffer some consequences for its actions, however.
The report in "The Washington Times" could not be independently verified, but Bill Gertz, who wrote the story, is known as a diligent reporter with good intelligence sources.
For that reason and others, Gardiner believes it is credible. And if it's confirmed, he says the implications for U.S.-French and British-French relations would be "huge."
"There's every reason to believe that this is a credible story based on hard evidence, and I think we are witnessing just the tip of the iceberg about what we know about the full extent of cooperation between France and Iraq," he said. "But according to this latest report, the French were clearly aiding and abetting the Iraqi regime and have been assisting in the escape of Iraqi war criminals, and this is a very, very serious matter which will have to be dealt with."
Poland, meanwhile, is both relishing its new position and ill at ease over tensions with European Union powers Germany and France. Warsaw is set to join the EU in 2004.
Some German newspapers have gone so far as to call Poland a U.S. "Trojan horse" designed to help Washington divide and conquer the future EU. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer recently said the Polish role in the Iraqi stability force is a trap to divide Europe between supporters and critics of American policy.
Radek Sikorski is former deputy defense and deputy foreign minister of Poland. Now with the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank, Sikorski tells RFE/RL that Warsaw wants to be both "a good European and a good NATO ally" but finds itself in a difficult situation.
"Poland is simply saying to our French and German friends and neighbors that we don't want to choose between Europe and America," Sikorski said. "We want to have both relationships. Europe is very important for us economically, and we are becoming members of a community which is political and economic in nature. But in the security field, America is obviously the leader of the free world, and America has been attacked, we are allies, and we feel comfortable about following American leadership."
Gardiner, meanwhile, says divisions in Europe have been caused by more than America's role in the world. The Heritage Foundation analyst says such divisions are about two different visions of the future of Europe -- one led by France and Germany, who see the EU as a highly centralized state, and another led by Britain, which wants a looser federation that respects "the sanctity of the nation-state."
In Washington, Polish Foreign Minister Cimoszewicz reiterated that Warsaw would like to lead the stabilization force together with Denmark and Germany. The countries already share a joint military corps based in Poland.
Germany, which has signaled it wants to patch over its recent differences with Washington, said yesterday that it would be prepared to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq if requested by the United Nations.
But German Defense Minister Peter Struck greeted the Polish proposal skeptically. He also said U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had told him that the U.S. would back a UN resolution requesting stability forces.
Cimoszewicz also said Poland would like to have such a UN resolution, a position strongly backed by Britain. Officials in Washington have not yet said publicly whether they will seek UN backing.
The size of the stability force, which would be separate from the 135,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq, is not known. Polish officials say they could initially contribute 1,500 forces. They say U.S. taxpayers should finance the Polish peacekeeping operation.
Other countries that supported the war have also offered troops, such as Ukraine, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, and Albania.