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Europe

Europe, US Seek Consensus on Iraq

Europe's resistance to the tough US stance on Iraq is fading. As Dick Cheney tours Europe and the Middle East, the changing attitude of Europe could help force Iraq to accept weapons inspectors, or lead to war.

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Saddam Hussein is the focus of diplomatic discussions

Key European Union member states are beginning to tentatively endorse the get-tough American position on Iraq. As it becomes increasingly clear that Washington is determined to use force to remove Saddam Hussein, EU members are coming out in support of the US.

On Monday, US Vice-President Dick Cheney met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss the issue of Iraq. Although no concrete statements were released regarding American military plans, speculation is widespread that Cheney spoke with Blair about imminent action against Iraq.

Whatever was discussed at the meeting between the two leaders, Cheney can be assured of Blair's support. England is after all one of America's strongest allies.

Where are the critics?

Just a month ago, European leaders criticized the US for putting military pressure on the much-vilified "axis of evil" of which Iraq is an integral part. They expressed concern that an attack against Iraq could cause violent upheavals in the Middle East and spell the end of the international coalition against terror.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer came out strongly at the end of last year saying, "All European nations would view a broadening of the conflict to include Iraq highly skeptically – and that is putting it diplomatically."

Over and over again prominent European politicians stated openly that unconditional solidarity with the US in the war on terror did not imply blind following of all American military initiatives.

That was then

The situation now has done a near reverse. Although EU leaders are not nearly as vocal in their support of the US as they were with criticism – in fact they’re rather hesitant to speak on the subject at all – there has been a noticeable shift in their position with regard to the US stance on Iraq.

This change comes just as US Vice President Dick Cheney tours Europe and the Middle East to drum up support for possible military action if Saddam refuses to admit UN arms inspectors into Iraq.

Senior diplomats, who wished to remain unnamed, said the major European states would back decisive armed action against Iraq if Saddam refused to allow arms inspectors to search for suspected weapons of mass destruction in his country.

"The United States hasn’t taken final decisions yet. But if the Iraqis refuse the return of the inspectors, that gives the Americans a pretext to act," said a senior EU foreign minister speaking on condition of anonymity.

The altered stance on Iraq was apparent on Monday when EU foreign ministers failed to adopt a proposal by Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel to send a European mission to Baghdad to persuade Saddam to abide by the UN Security Council resolution on weapons inspections.

The senior EU minister said, "There is nothing to negotiate with Iraq. Either Iraq capitulates to the Security Council or no one can stop the consequences. The Americans will eventually act."

All against one

Compared to the Gulf War in 1991 when European countries were divided on their position concerning the US attack on Iraq, the EU today is adamantly against Saddam and wants to see the dictator ousted.

Despite their criticism of President Bush’s "axis of evil" and plans to widen the zone of conflict, all the major European countries now seem in favor of applying military might to get rid of Saddam.

"If we could get rid of him," said one diplomat, "it would be a boon for mankind."

The fact that the US is so determined to take action, with or without its European allies, also changes the EU position. NATO members and other EU states want to be on the side of America and not against it.

Their mindset seems to be, if the US won’t soften its position on Iraq, then Europe should at least tacitly accept it and hope to play at least a small role in the global decision making process.

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