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Thursday, 5 September, 2002, 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK
US and Europe split over Iraq
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
Schroeder is heading into an election campaign

For months America's relations with its European allies have been edgy and frayed. Now the US faces a full-scale rebellion.

That rebellion is led by Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. He has said "no" in the strongest terms to German support for any US-led military action against Iraq.

President George W Bush
George Bush lacks support in Europe
He has also dressed down President Bush for failing to consult his allies.

Mr Schroeder, who faces a battle for re-election in two weeks' time, now says he would oppose military action, even if the UN Security Council were to give its backing to the use of force.

It is an almost unprecedented snub to superpower America from Germany, an important ally.

And the US has been stung. American Ambassador to Berlin Daniel Coats said the chancellor's stance has led to "a certain doubt about the closeness of the relationship".

At once America's stance towards Germany has cooled.

Mr Bush says he will consult with world leaders - but Mr Schroeder's name was not on the list he gave, which included the leaders of Britain, France, Russia and China.

Ratings winner

Mr Schroeder is reflecting a strong tide of opinion in Germany.

Senior figures in his government have declared a pre-emptive strike against Iraq would be "a war of aggression" and "against international law".

Opinion polls show a massive majority against military action.

Mr Schroeder's anti-war rhetoric seems to have boosted his chances of retaining power in the 22 September election.

We oppose a preventive war against Iraq

Javier Solana
A few months ago his Social Democrats were lagging more than 5% behind the CDU-CSU alliance led by Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber.

Now some polls say they are neck and neck.

Mr Stoiber at first called Gerhard Schroeder's criticism of the US "dangerous", but now he too refuses to say whether he would support America.

As of now, both candidates to be Germany's next leader say they would oppose the use of military force.

Even though US troops could face a risk of attack from Saddam Hussein's biological or chemical weapons, both candidates would also refuse the services of Germany's highly specialised unit for detecting unconventional weapons.

Europe-wide support

Mr Schroeder may yet decide to climb down. He says he would rethink if the US provided proof of a direct link between Iraq and al-Qaeda terrorists.

But right now the German leader claims to represent the mainstream view in Europe.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair is Europe's lone supporter of the US stance
He already has the backing of the EU's high representative for foreign policy, Javier Solana.

Mr Solana said bluntly: "We oppose a preventive war against Iraq."

He added that it would be a big mistake, and would not be "covered by international law".

These comments represent the most serious quarrel for many years between the US and some of its European allies.

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is soon to visit the US for talks with President Bush, is the only European leader now unequivocally backing US policy.

Mr Blair believes European and world opinion will side with the US once the scale and urgency of the threat from Iraq's arsenal of chemical and biological weapons is understood.

But Mr Schroeder is in strident mood. He said that when Tony Blair meets Mr Bush to talk about possible war strategies, he alone "will not speak for Europe".

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See also:

07 Aug 02 | Middle East
04 Sep 02 | Europe
05 Sep 02 | Europe
04 Sep 02 | Politics
07 Aug 02 | Middle East
05 Sep 02 | Americas
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