Germany and France warn Bush on Iraq

By Toby Helm in Berlin and Ben Fenton in Washington
(Filed: 19/02/2002) 

THE transatlantic rift deepened yesterday when Germany joined France in
opposing military strikes against Iraq as part of a new front in the war
on terrorism.

President Bush said he was keeping "all options on the table" to deal
with Baghdad, but Chancellor Gerhard Schroder's government said it would
not back American "adventures" unless there was proof that Saddam
Hussein's regime was directly linked to the September 11 attacks.

John Manley, Canada's deputy foreign minister, answered concerns that
his country would be sucked into an attack on Iraq by saying: "We decide
for ourselves what we're going to do."

Vice-President Dick Cheney repeated the promise to prevent Iraq, Iran
and North Korea from threatening America or its allies.

Asked yesterday about comments by Hubert Vedrine, the French foreign
minister, criticising US policy on terrorism, Mr Bush said: "The leaders
I've talked to fully understand exactly what needs to happen . . . We're
going to seize the moment, and do it."

The public airing of European doubts is causing growing irritation in
the Bush administration. Gen Colin Powell, the secretary of state,
accused M Vedrine of having an attack of "the vapours".

Joschka Fischer, Germany's foreign minister, aired worries about
military strikes on Iraq and what lay behind Mr Bush's talk of an "axis
of evil" between Iran, Iraq and North Korea. "There is a debate that is
getting more intense and that we view with concern," he told the Die
Welt newspaper.

The magazine Der Spiegel said Mr Fischer had told the cabinet the fight
against terrorism should not be allowed to become a global military
campaign. "The day could come when the Europeans have to make clear that
this is not their policy."

In a seemingly concerted effort by Germany to show the extent of its
worries, Karsten Voigt, the Foreign Ministry's co-ordinator for US-
German co-operation, said Berlin also wanted a new regime in Baghdad,
but doubted whether military action was the best way.

United Nations inspectors should be allowed in to check whether Saddam
was stockpiling nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. But fighting
the spread of weapons of mass destruction "is not the same subject as
the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington," Mr Voigt told a radio

Washington was infuriated last week by attacks from Chris Patten, the
European Union's external affairs commissioner, who said: "To brand a
disparate group of countries as an axis of evil did not strike me as the
finest phrase ever produced by the president's speech writers."

Growing US hostility to Iran and North Korea was seen in Brussels as a
calculated slap in the face, because the EU is promoting friendly ties
with the regimes of Iran and North Korea.

EU diplomats say Washington was warned in the clearest terms before the
speech that military action against Iraq would shatter the post-
September 11 alliance unless there was proof of Saddam's involvement.

The row has ended a period of remarkable transatlantic solidarity in
which Nato invoked Article 5 for the first time, agreeing spontaneously
that the alliance had been attacked as a single entity, and the EU
backed military action against the Taliban as legitimate self-defence by

Relations between Europe and Washington are also strained by US policy
on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many European leaders are said to
feel that Washington is too pro-Israel.

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