PARIS, AUG. 31 -- West Germany and other allies signaled their readiness today to help friendly countries hurt by the economic boycott of Iraq, but some leading European officials expressed skepticism that their governments would approve substantial contributions to pay for U.S. military forces in the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia.
Italian Foreign Minister Gianni de Michelis said that West European countries should "dig into our purses" to assist nations such as Turkey, Jordan and Egypt that are suffering from the global ban on trade with Iraq. However, de Michelis said in Rome, "I doubt that it would be easy to bring to the various parliaments a request to saddle themselves with, let's say, 10 or 20 percent of the U.S. military bill."
De Michelis said it was important for wealthy countries to come up with money to alleviate the damage inflicted on Iraq's poor neighbors and trading partners "to sustain the economic-financial choice, along with the military choice that directly involves the United States and many other countries."
President Bush's appeal Thursday for prosperous countries in Western Europe and in Asia to subsidize the enforcement of United Nations sanctions against Iraq seems destined to ignite a potentially explosive debate among America's allies about an equitable distribution of security responsibilities.
Only France and Britain have dispatched sizable contingents of armed forces to the gulf to demonstrate Europe's military commitment to back up the embargo that was set in place after Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait. Other countries, such as Greece, Belgium and the Netherlands, have sent token naval vessels aimed more at providing a symbol of commitment to the embargo than at exercising a meaningful military role.
The divided European response evoked sharp criticism Thursday from British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who told a conference of conservative political parties meeting in Helsinki that the allies cannot "expect the U.S. to go on bearing major military and defense burdens worldwide, acting in effect as the world's policeman."
De Michelis today denounced Thatcher's remarks as "unjustified and ungenerous." Speaking on behalf of the 12 members of the European Community, whose presidency Italy holds until the end of this year, the Italian foreign minister insisted that European countries had responded "effectively and with clarity of intentions and decisions" in the gulf crisis.
But other European political leaders expressed agreement with Thatcher. Denmark's Ulf Elleman Jensen said Thatcher was correct in her assessment. He called on small nations of the world each to dispatch one warship to the gulf as a symbol of their commitment to support sanctions against Iraq.
The primary targets of Bush and Thatcher, in their quest for a bolder and more generous commitment by the allies in the gulf, are the governments in Tokyo and Bonn. Those two nations, citing postwar restrictions on their countries not to engage in military conflicts beyond the need for self-preservation, have been reluctant to become militarily involved in the gulf conflict.
As the two biggest economic powers with no forces in the gulf, Japan and Germany are increasingly regarded by commentators in Britain and France as profiting from their low military profile in order to concentrate on their economic well-being. East and West Germany's recent decision to restrict the size of a united Germany's armed forces to 370,000 was made to reassure its neighbors and allies, which fear a return to the type of German militarism that led the country into two world wars during the first half of the century. Now, however, the decision to limit armed forces is being cited not as proof of a pacifist mentality, but as evidence of a mercantile mentality.
Tokyo announced Thursday that it would provide $1 billion worth of food, water and medical supplies to forces serving in the gulf. Bonn declared today that it would contribute an unspecified amount of financial and material aid in response to Bush's call to share the cost of the embargo.
But those promises, according to some European diplomats, may not be sufficient to satisfy Washington. Those diplomats believe that Washington will seek greater involvement, including military commitments, from both countries.
The ruling parties in Japan and Germany have often cited legal inhibitions barring them from taking any role in the multinational force in the gulf. They also seem anxious about the political risks of leading a parliamentary drive to alter their constitutions to permit deployment of military force abroad.
The Japanese government, having emerged from a bruising election campaign with a narrow victory several months ago, appears reluctant to gamble its slender parliamentary majority by buckling to American and Western pressure and by opening an emotional reassessment of Japan's future military role in the world.
In Bonn, where the process of German unification has overshadowed gulf developments, the task of changing the constitution and setting conditions for German military involvement abroad is looming as the first great political debate once Germany is formally united in early October.
But the heat of political campaigning prior to all-German elections on Dec. 2 is likely to put off any major changes in the country's constitution until a new parliament is seated early next year.