BUDAPEST, Hungary - Eight European leaders voiced deep gratitude to the United States on Thursday and wrote that U.S.-European ties “must not become a casualty’’ of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s attempts to “threaten world security.’’
In an indirect reference to opposition by France, Germany and Russia to U.S. plans to disarm Iraq militarily, the leaders of Britain, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Denmark used an op-ed article to thank the United States for “bravery and generosity’’ in ensuring peace in Europe.
The article, signed by seven prime ministers and one president, was published in Thursday’s the Wall Street Journal’s American, European and Asian editions, The Times of London and other European newspapers.
Karen Miller Pensiero, a Wall Street Journal spokeswoman, said the article originated with the newspaper’s request to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his Spanish courterpart, Jose Aznar, for the op-ed piece outlining their support for the U.S. position on Iraq.
She said the two leaders then contacted the other Europeans and sought their views, resulting in the opinion piece that carried all eight signatures.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair was quick to dismiss suggestions Thursday that the article deepened a dispute between European nations and France and Germany, which staunchly oppose a war with Iraq if not sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council.
France and Germany “are in a slightly different place’’ on the Iraq debate, said the spokesman, who demanded anonymity. “They are, of course, entitled to their view.’’
Still, the article recalled U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s recent, and controversial, characterization of France and Germany as representing an “old Europe’’ out of synch with the rest of the expanding European Union and NATO.
In his comments last week, Rumsfeld said the rest of Europe, including those countries of the former communist East, largely supported the United States.
Hungary, one of the signers, refused to comment further Thursday. Greece - which currently holds the EU presidency - said the letter did not reflect an official EU position.
But while an Athens spokesman said Greece was not asked to sign the editorial, he said Greece did not disagree with its contents.
The Journal noted the op-ed article in its lead front-page story that said it was a sign of “further shifting (of) the global political calculus toward support for war.’’
The letter said said Europe must remain solidly behind the effort to disarm Iraq
“We must remain united in insisting that his (Saddam’s) regime be disarmed. The solidarity, cohesion and determination of the international community are our best hope of achieving this peacefully. Our strength lies in unity,’’ the article said.
The letter, certain to be a boost to President Bush who has said the diplomatic effort to disarm Saddam has so far failed, said Europe has “a common responsibility to face this threat. Failure to do so would be nothing less that negligent to our own citizens and to the wider world.’’
The article also warned the United Nations that it must not allow Saddam to violate Security Council Resolution 1441 which returned inspectors to Baghdad in November and gave the Iraqi leader one last chance to disarm or prove that he had destroyed weapons of mass destruction. The resolution said Iraqi defiance would produce “serious consequences.’’
“It they (U.N. demands) are not complied with, the Security Council will lose its credibility and world peace will suffer as a result. We are confident that the Security Council will face up to its responsibilities,’’ the article concluded.
Secretary of State Colin Powell is to take the Bush Administration’s argument to the Security Council Wednesday, possibly revealing additional U.S. intelligence about Iraq’s weapons program, in what could be a last effort by Washington to gain U.N. approval for attacking Iraq.
Bush has insisted the United States would lead a “coalition of the willing’’ against Saddam regardless of Security Council support.
In Berlin, Bela Anda, a spokesman for German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, said the statement only emphasized the German position on implementing U.N. resolution 1441, urging Iraq to cooperate fully with inspectors and seeking a peaceful solution.
Despite the two-camp split in Europe, Russia and most of the 15 EU nations want any military action against Iraq to be preceded by a new U.N. Security Council resolution expressly authorizing such a move.
In Brussels, the European Parliament passed a resolution Thursday calling on the United States not to take unilateral military action and urged the United Nations to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.
The editorial was signed by Aznar, Jose-Manuel Durao Barroso, Berlusconi, Tony Blair, Peter Medgyessy, Leszek Miller and Anders Fogh Rasmussen, prime ministers respectively of Spain, Portugal, Italy, Britain, Hungary, Poland and Denmark. Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic, signed as well.