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Sunday, 1 September, 2002, 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
Iraq seeks European support
UN weapons inspectors
The issue of UN weapons inspectors is a sticking point
Iraq has announced that it plans to send envoys to various European capitals to rally support against the threat of an American attack.

Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan says the envoys will explain, as he put it, how America is threatening world peace and security.

In recent weeks, the EU has made it clear it wants differences with Iraq to be resolved through diplomacy rather than war.

A debate is needed within the international community, so that everybody can make a judgement about this

Colin Powell
EU foreign ministers on Saturday called on Iraq to allow UN weapons inspectors back into the country immediately.

Now, they have won support for their stance from the US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Mr Powell said on Sunday that inspections would be a first step towards resolving the Iraq crisis.

He added that the US needed to present all available evidence of its suspicions about Iraq to the international community so that an informed judgement could be made about possible military action.

In a BBC interview, Mr Powell argued that the current debate was too focused on what was happening within the Bush administration, rather than on the Iraqi regime.

Mr Powell's comments came as UK Prime Minister Tony Blair - one of Mr Bush's staunchest allies - played down the prospect of any imminent military action.

At the same time, Mr Blair said the world could not stand by while Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein remained in flagrant breach of UN resolutions.

Rallying support

Iraq's strategy at the moment is to try to rally as much support as it can from as many areas as possible, says BBC correspondent Heba Saleh.

Baghdad can see that Europe is alarmed by America's tough talk of a military campaign, and our correspondent says Iraqi officials are aiming to widen the gap developing between the Europeans and the Americans.

In his speech on Sunday, Mr Ramadan warmly praised the EU for refusing to toe Washington's hard line.

Iraqi vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan
Mr Ramadan praised France and Germany's opposition to US plans
He told the official Iraq News Agency (INA) that French and German opposition to US plans for a unilateral attack on Iraq meant "European countries are aware of the dangers of the US policy of hegemony which targets the whole world without exception."

On Saturday, Denmark's Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller, hosting a meeting of foreign ministers in the Danish town of Elsinore, urged the US to continue broad consultations on the issue.

But Mr Moeller also urged Baghdad to allow UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq immediately - a call Mr Ramadan made no mention of during his speech on Sunday.

Last week, Mr Ramadan said there was no point in admitting the inspectors, since the US would attack anyway.

Analysts, however, say Baghdad is probably saving the return of the inspectors as a last card to play, if it became clear that war was imminent.

Arab meeting

Iraq is also courting countries outside Europe in its search for support.

On Sunday, the Iraqi government said a member of the Saudi royal family was due to visit Baghdad on Monday - the first such visit since the Gulf War of 1991.

A Filipino demonstrator during an anti-US rally
Iraq wants to capitalise on anti-US feeling
The two countries agreed to improve their relations at an Arab summit in Beirut in March, and in recent weeks Saudi Arabia has repeatedly come out against any US military action against Iraq.

Further afield, on a recent trip to China, the Iraqi foreign minister secured Chinese opposition to a US strike.

In the coming days, he will visit Russia and attend an Arab foreign ministers' meeting in Egypt, where he can expect strong expressions of support for his country.

The BBC's Richard Slee
"Saddam is sending envoys to European capitals"

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See also:

31 Aug 02 | Europe
31 Aug 02 | Politics
30 Aug 02 | Middle East
30 Aug 02 | Media reports
30 Aug 02 | Middle East
29 Aug 02 | Middle East
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