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Monday, 10 February, 2003, 19:58 GMT
Iraq crisis provokes anger and confusion
A Tornado GR4 from the Royal Air Force takes off from RAF Marham in Norfolk
The US and UK continue their military build-up

The diplomatic endgame over Iraq was always going to be complicated but it has broken down into confusion.

There are divisions across the Atlantic and disagreements within Europe.

These are symptoms of the deep divergence between those - led by the United States and Britain - who think that Iraq's time is up and those - led now by a troika of France, Germany and Russia - who want an extended system of containment.

As a way of insulting the French proposals for sending more inspectors, the Americans have even introduced the image of the bumbling detective Inspector Clouseau into the testy exchanges.

This all might be just a foretaste of the worse crisis which would develop if the United States and Britain went to war without the authority of the Security Council.

New diplomatic battlelines

US Secretary of State Colin Powell, the dove turned hawk, contemptuously compared any extra inspectors to "Inspector Clouseau running all around Iraq".

New diplomatic battlelines are being drawn up here. And certainly one casualty is the hopeless effort to develop a "common European foreign policy."

Another is the unity of Nato.

Much will depend on the weapons inspectors' next report to the Council this Friday, 14 February. If they do not report full co-operation, the United States will press for a war resolution.

For the Americans, full co-operation means not just concessions on U2 flights and interviews with inspectors, it means an explanation of what happened to material unaccounted for when the inspectors left in 1998.

Washington will pounce on any transgression and many think that it has already made up its mind.

New Russia joins Old Europe

The first row concerns a late effort by France and Germany to head off war by proposing an alternative vision under which Iraq would be contained by a tighter inspections regime.

After talks in Paris with the French President Jacques Chirac, the Russian President Vladimir Putin swung behind the plan.

In so doing he joined "New Russia" to "Old Europe" as the Franco-German alliance has been called by the US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

At the heart of the plan is a proposal to increase the 100 inspectors in Iraq to about 300. In this way, it is felt, any effort by Iraq to develop weapons of mass destruction would be prevented.

"Nothing today justifies a war," declared Mr Chirac. He was echoed by Mr Putin: "We are against the war. At the moment, that is the view I have."

Note, though, the "today" and "at the moment" in their remarks. The door is still just open to a change of policy.

Inspector Clouseau, I presume?

The intervention has in any event infuriated the United States whose Secretary of State Colin Powell, the dove turned hawk, contemptuously compared any extra inspectors to "Inspector Clouseau running all around Iraq".

The divisions over Iraq produced the startling sight of the German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer publicly haranguing Donald Rumsfeld at a meeting in Munich over the weekend

Inspector Clouseau was the comically incompetent film detective played by Peter Sellers. He was, as General Powell well knows, French.

The divisions over Iraq produced the startling sight of the German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer publicly haranguing Donald Rumsfeld at a meeting in Munich over the weekend.

Row within Nato

The second row is within Nato, which has been split by a proposal to send equipment to help defend Turkey in the event of war. This would be made up of AWACs airborne control aircraft, Patriot missiles and chemical and biological defence teams.

France, Germany and Belgium objected on the grounds that it was preparing for war not helping to avoid it.

Those tracking Belgium's role, incidentally, will recall its refusal to provide Britain with shells before the Gulf War in 1991.

For the first time in Nato's history, it appears, Turkey has responded by invoking Nato's Article 4 under which the security of a member state is declared at risk. This is designed to increase pressure on the three hold-outs to rally round the other 16 members.

Nato's Secretary General Lord Robertson described it laconically as a "difficult situation" but predicted an eventual agreement.

Turkey will get help anyway

Mr Rumsfeld, as always, had his own words: "I think this is a disgrace," he announced.

Over the years since the Cold War ended, Nato has had to think harder and harder about what it is now for

And speaking after talks in Washington with the Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Mr Rumsfeld said that if there was no agreement in Nato about giving help to Turkey, it would be given anyway.

Clearly, all this will have a serious impact on relations across the Atlantic and within Europe.

Talk of Nato's demise

Talk of the demise of Nato has been heard again. It has been heard before.

But over the years since the Cold War ended, Nato has had to think harder and harder about what it is now for.

The old enemy the Red Army is no more. Not that confronting the Soviet Union was all unity and agreement. There were fierce arguments, for example, about the deployment of medium range missiles in the 1980's.

But dealing with a range of new adversaries is proving divisive from time to time. This is such a time.

Loosening the ties

The latest straw in the wind comes in a proposal to reshape the American military presence in Europe.

According to the New York Times, American delegates on the plane carrying them home from the Munich meeting were talking with approval of a briefing they had been given by the new American commander in Europe, General James Jones.

He had said that American forces in Europe might be cut from their current level of 100,000. There would no longer be so many major units stationed in Europe but equipment would be left there and troops flown in if necessary.

Such a concept would retain the American commitment but it would also be seen as a loosening of its ties.


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10 Feb 03 | Middle East
10 Feb 03 | Europe
10 Feb 03 | Politics
09 Feb 03 | Business
09 Feb 03 | Middle East
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