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Thursday, 30 January, 2003, 19:36 GMT
Analysis: Europe's divisions laid bare
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (left) and French President Jacques Chirac
France and Germany were not among the signatories

The divisions within Europe over whether to back American military action against Iraq have become more stark.

The British government says France and Germany were not asked to sign an open letter published by eight European leaders, which urges Europe and the United States to stand together to rid the world of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
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

It is signed by five members of the European Union - Britain, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Denmark, and three countries due to join next year - Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Last week - on the 40th anniversary of their friendship treaty - France and Germany said they would work together in the Security Council to try to prevent a war on Iraq.

The open letter from eight countries close to Washington is a riposte to that - it lays bare the divisions within Europe and draws up the battle lines for the final phase of diplomacy in the Iraq confrontation.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman has spelt out the rebuff to the French and the Germans by saying that they were not even given the opportunity to sign the letter - he added that they did not speak for the whole of Europe any more than Britain did.

There may be an element of internal EU pique in this - Britain was taken aback recently by a series of other Franco-German initiatives.

But for Mr Blair, as he flies to Washington, the open letter demonstrates that he is not alone in his strong support for President Bush.

'New' and 'old'

It is being stressed that the article was drafted by the Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar.

Anti-war demonstration in UK
European leaders face pressure not to support a war
Britain says the Netherlands also backed the sentiments but declined to sign because it is involved in talks on a new government coalition.

Significantly, three eastern European incoming members of the EU were signed up: they were identified by the American Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, as part of the "new Europe", while France and Germany were dismissed as the "old Europe".

And it is worth remembering that some of the leaders who have come out in support of Washington have great problems with public opinion at home.

In Spain, for example, a new opinion poll suggests that more than 40% of people would still oppose military action against Iraq even if it were authorised by the UN.

Jon Sopel reports from Paris
"There is no sign of Jacques Chirac climbing down"
Gustavo De Aristegui of Spain's governing party:
"Acting firmly against Iraq is the shortest way to peace"
The BBC's Mike Sergeant
"They're not perhaps as isolated as they were diplomatically"

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See also:

30 Jan 03 | Europe
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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