Germany blocks the road to war
by James Bone, Richard Beeston and Charles Bremner
[The Times, UK, 23 Jan]:
GERMANY will use its power as incoming president of the UN Security Council to try to head off war with Iraq by asking the chief weapons inspectors to report twice in three weeks, The Times has learnt.
The surprise German effort to buy time appeared to be aimed at defusing the tension that is building around the chief inspector’s public report to the 15-nation council on Monday.
Germany fears that President Bush could use Hans Blix’s report — and his own State of the Union speech on Tuesday — as a trigger for war. It is therefore proposing bringing the inspectors back for a second assessment on February 14, having invited them to Berlin beforehand.
Berlin’s diplomatic move was launched as the allies’ simmering dispute over Iraq exploded into a heated row. The French and German leaders vowed to use all their influence to stop the war, while Washington and London fumed that efforts to disarm President Saddam Hussein were being undermined at a critical stage. Behind the scenes ministers on both sides were involved in angry exchanges.
President Chirac confirmed the impression of a looming clash with Washington and London by announcing that he and the German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder had agreed a common stand on Iraq. “Any decision belongs to the UN Security Council and to it alone, speaking after having heard the report of the arms inspectors, in conformity with the resolutions it has adopted,” he said after a Franco-German Cabinet meeting in the Elysée Palace. For us . . . war is always an admission of failure and the worst of all solutions. Everything should be done to avoid it.” Herr Schröder, in Paris to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Franco-German friendship treaty, said: “We agreed completely to harmonise our positions as closely as possible to find a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis.”
He had earlier told cheering Social Democrat supporters that he would not vote in favour of “a resolution that legitimises war”. Germany, which assumes the Security Council presidency in February, will either vote against a war-enabling resolution or abstain.
Tony Blair hit back instantly by warning that Britain would be prepared to take military action against Iraq with or without a second UN Security Council resolution. “We would support it (military action) where it was clear there was a breach by Saddam and there was an unreasonable blockage of a Security Council resolution,” he told the Commons.
The widening divisions poisoned relations between the allies and led to angry scenes at Nato, where France and Germany blocked a decision on whether to prepare support for America’s military build-up in the Gulf.
Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, criticised his French and German counterparts for weakening the international effort to disarm Iraq. Mr Powell was said to be furious with the French and he admitted that he had “a candid and honest forthright exchange of views” with Dominique de Villepin, the French Foreign Minister.
He said that comments by Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, had provoked him into warning the Security Council “not to be shocked into impotence because we are afraid of difficult choices”.
Dr Blix conceded on his return from Baghdad yesterday that Iraq was still not providing the “proactive” co-operation that he wants and said that he still had “grave questions”. Iraq was not divulging enough data and had blocked his inspectors from interviewing scientists in private.
Last night Mr Bush urged his allies not to ignore “incredibly troubling and disturbing” evidence that Iraq was flouting the UN. “Saddam Hussein has learnt the lessons from the past,” he said in St Louis. “He asked for more time so he can give the so-called inspectors more runaround. He is interested in playing hide-and-seek in a huge country. He is not interested in disarming.”
The row leaves Britain torn between its European and American allegiances. Diplomatic sources said Britain was unlikely to join America in declaring Iraq in “further material breach” next week, the trigger for war. “I do not think the inspectors will bring to the Security Council the basis for that,” one official said.
Britain appeared happy to go along with the German schedule because it buys time for the inspectors to turn up a “smoking gun” before the weather gets too hot for a military campaign. Mr Blix had not previously planned to return to the UN until March 1, considered too late to launch an attack before the spring heat.