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Thursday, 30 January, 2003, 16:48 GMT
European leaders rally behind US
Silvio Berlusconi and Tony Blair
Blair (r) has been beating the US drum in Europe
The leaders of eight European states have issued a joint declaration of solidarity with the United States in its campaign to disarm Saddam Hussein.

Statement signatories
Jose Maria Aznar, Spain
Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, Portugal
Silvio Berlusconi, Italy
Tony Blair, United Kingdom
Vaclav Havel, Czech Republic
Peter Medgyessy, Hungary
Leszek Miller, Poland
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Denmark

In an apparent rebuff to France and Germany's opposition to military action, the leaders of Britain, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Hungary, Poland, Denmark and the Czech Republic said the Iraqi president must not be allowed to violate UN resolutions.

The BBC's Ian Pannell in Washington says the statement gives substance to the Bush administration's stance that it is prepared to lead a "coalition of the willing" against Iraq without the backing of the UN if need be.

The signatories noted that they were "bound by [UN] Security Council Resolution 1441", which, they said, was "Saddam Hussein's last chance to disarm using peaceful means".

In a flurry of diplomatic activity over the crisis, President Bush will meet Italian Prime Minister on Friday, while UK Prime Minister Tony Blair will hold talks with the Spanish prime minister before joining Mr Bush in Camp David.

Old Europe rift

The Democrat opposition in the US has said it hopes Mr Blair will exert a restraining influence on Mr Bush.

31 Jan - Bush meets Blair
5 Feb - Powell to address UN Security Council
14 Feb - Further report from weapons inspectors
27 Mar - Blix submits new report to UN

"I think that it is important.... that we take this very, very deliberately and cautiously and I hope that [Mr Blair] will express those words, of the need for precaution again as he comes to Washington," the Democrats' leader in the Senate, Tom Daschle, told the BBC.

The statement from the eight leaders said Europeans agreed that Saddam was a "clear threat to world security".

They declared that the world should ensure that the Iraqi regime is disarmed.

"The solidarity, cohesion and determination of the international community are our best hope of achieving this peacefully. Our strength lies in unity."

The statement of such strong support for the US and a "transatlantic relationship" is in sharp contrast to open differences between Washington and France and Germany.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently derided France and Germany as the "old Europe" after their leaders said they would work together to avoid war in Iraq.

Open in new window : Who backs war?
Where key nations stand on Iraq

France, which is a permanent member of the Security Council and could veto any resolution on military action, has said there should be more time to verify or find fault with Iraq's claims it has disarmed.

Russia - another permanent council member - has demanded that Washington provide "undeniable proof" that Iraq had illegal weapons of mass destruction.

Inspections under discussion

The head of the UN's nuclear weapons inspectors in Iraq, Mohamed ElBaradei, told the BBC that he could complete his inspections in a matter of months - if the Security Council allows them that much time.

"I believe in the next few months - four or five months - we should be able to come to a conclusion that Iraq is clean from nuclear weapons," he said.

But he said that Iraq had to show better co-operation.

"[The Iraqis] need to show quickly that there is a change of heart, that they are eager to be disarmed and not just be dragged into compliance.

"That psychological switch is key and if they make that transition I hope that we will have time to ensure Iraq's disarmament through inspections".

The Security Council is currently discussing a report by Mr ElBaradei and the chief inspector Hans Blix on the progress of their hunt for illegally held weapons.

Attention is now shifting towards 5 February when US Secretary of State Colin Powell is to present the Security Council with new evidence which President Bush says will back US assertions that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.

Dr Stanislaw Komorowski, Polish ambassador to the UK
"Poles believe in a united Europe but we also think it is extremely important to be united with America"
Gustavo De Aristegui, Spain's ruling party
"This is about fulfilling international legality"

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See also:

30 Jan 03 | Politics
29 Jan 03 | Middle East
29 Jan 03 | Europe
29 Jan 03 | Europe
29 Jan 03 | Americas
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