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Europeans Leaders Split On U.S. Support In Iraq Debate

The heads of eight European governments have expressed support for a U.S.-led military attack against Iraq. But other leaders on the continent are still strongly opposed to a war in the region.


On guard: German soldiers provide security at a U.S. facility near Frankfurt

European leaders were deeply divided on Thursday over the possibility that the United States would launch a war against the regime of Saddam Hussein.

In an appeal that appeared in 12 continental newspapers, the leaders of eight European countries called on their citizens to support the United States in its effort to find any weapons of mass destruction held by Iraq. "Europe and America must stand together," said the article, which appeared on the newspaper's opinion pages.

The call of support was signed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, outgoing Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel and the leaders of Portugal, Denmark, Hungary and Poland.

The appeal was issued three days after U.N. weapons inspectors issued their first report on their work and said Iraq had failed to cooperate adequately with teams seeking to assess its ability to produce and use weapons of mass destruction. In Thursday's appeal, the European leaders said Saddam was continuing his deceptive practices. "We cannot allow a dictator to systematically violate U.N. resolutions," the appeal said.

Critics respond to appeal

The article generated an immediate reply from European critics of Bush and his possible war plans. In Brussels, members of the European Union's parliament passed a resolution in which they warned the United States against carrying out an attack without authorization of the United Nations. The lawmakers, voting 287-209, also acknowledged that the weapons inspectors had uncovered violations of U.N. resolutions, but that these violations did not justify a military operation.

Members of a separate European organization also warned the United States against conducting a war without approval of the U.N. Security Council, saying that under current circumstances a military attack is not justified.

The resolution was passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The council, based in Strasbourg, France, is a 44-member organization that promotes human rights and democracy. It is not part of the European Union.

Among the critics at the European Council on Thursday was the president of Austria, Thomas Klestil. He raised questions about the evidence that the United States has about Iraqi weapons and warned Bush against conducting a preventive strike.

Bush vows to provide evidence

To address such critics, President George W. Bush said in his State of the Union address on Tuesday that he would provide the United Nations with information about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction next Wednesday. Administration officials said the data would show Saddam was concealing chemical and biological weapons from inspectors, and was importing technology for long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs.

The doubts raised by the parliamentary members in Europe are shared by citizens across the continent as well, according to a new survey. Four-fifths of Europeans would oppose a U.S. war launched with a U.N. mandate, according the survey conducted by Gallup Europe in Wavre, Belgium. The survey was conducted among 15,000 people living in 30 countries.

Many Germans, including Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, also oppose any war on Iraq. And on Thursday, they learned of a possible way that their country could slow any U.S. military action. A report issued by a parliamentary lawyer said Germany could prohibit the United States from using its bases in Germany if it launched a war against Iraq without U.N. authorization. Such a prohibition could present a major obstacle for the United States, which relies heavily on air bases in Germany and has thousands of soldiers stationed throughout the southern half of the country.

Report contradicts chancellor

The report said the United States did not have the right to carry out "single-handed preventive attacks from the Federal Republic of Germany." The issue was examined at the request of a lawmaker, Hans-Peter Uhl, a member of the Bavarian-based opposition party the Christian Social Union.

The finding conflicts with a decision already made by Schröder. In November, he assured U.S. leaders that they could use the bases whenever they wanted. The chancellor's decision was based on Germany's obligations to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

But a second parliamentary study conducted into the issue contradicted this position. It said that an attack against Iraq would not involve defense of the alliance and that a U.N. resolution that goes beyond previous decisions would be necessary.

After the reports were released, a U.S.spokeswoman told DW-WORLD that American leaders expected no changes in the German position on use of the bases. "We are relying on the German government to keep its word," the spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Berlin said.

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