BONN, JAN. 3 -- When the foreign ministers of 12 European Community nations gather Friday in an attempt to break the stalemate in the Persian Gulf, they will approach the crisis with goals that do not coincide as neatly with American aims as the phrase "international coalition" might imply.
Europeans have heard the same accounts as Americans have about the Iraqi ransacking of Kuwait, but there is a different view of the gulf crisis here.
In Europe, national leaders have not gone on television to address the people about the evils of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and the situation in the gulf has come to dominate the TV news here only in the last few days. Except in Britain, there were few news stories about the families of soldiers who had to spend Christmas in the Saudi desert.
The biggest gulf story in today's edition of Germany's largest newspaper, Bild, asked "Gulf War -- What are we Germans in for?" The article went on to provide answers to questions such as, "What places should we avoid when going on vacation?" and "Will there be terrorist acts here?"
Although European leaders continue, like President Bush, to demand that Iraq withdraw completely from Kuwait, the Europeans appear to be more open than the United States to a negotiated solution that offers Saddam concessions and leaves Iraq's political status unchanged.
Foreign policy experts and diplomats in several European capitals said today that the entrance of the EC into the rush of 11th-hour efforts for a negotiated settlement means that if Iraq wants to talk, it now has a partner that is more wary than Washington of using military force, more willing to restrict talks to the withdrawal from Kuwait and more open to restoring good relations with Saddam's government.
The European meeting Friday is expected to send to Baghdad either Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jacques Poos, the EC president, or a delegation of three diplomats, from Luxembourg, Italy and the Netherlands. But the Europeans' message is not expected to be phrased in wording as tough as that used by Bush in recent weeks.
Poos said today that the EC is prepared to authorize a mission to Baghdad, but he added that "there will be no negotiations."
"Something must be done to overcome the stalemate," he said, "but this something must be done in agreement with the whole anti-Iraqi front."
Iraq's ambassador to the EC, Zaid Haidar, welcomed a European move for talks and asked the Europeans to press the United States to consider the occupation of Kuwait as one among several questions to be resolved at a conference on Middle East problems.
But Haidar reacted angrily to Poos's statement that the EC would not negotiate with Iraq but would only try to push it toward accepting the U.N. resolution on Kuwait. "If that is the aim, it would be better not to send anyone," he told a news conference in Brussels.
In a clear attempt to split the Europeans from their American allies, Haidar said: "If there is to be a war, it will be an American decision, executed by Americans, to defend American interests."
But Poos said the Europeans will not allow Iraq to use them to drive a wedge into the solidarity of the Western alliance, and a French source said the EC's efforts are meant to accompany, not replace, Washington's continuing diplomatic moves.
A majority of EC members oppose using military force in the gulf until after all possible diplomatic approaches have been exhausted, according to diplomats from four EC countries. While most members would support the use of force as a last resort to free Kuwait from Iraqi control, a majority of the countries have made it clear to the United States that they oppose any attack on Iraq itself.
"This is where the coalition might break up," said Bassma Kodmani-Darwish, a Middle East policy expert at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris. "Italy, Spain, Germany and France are very much opposed to a military operation that would hit Iraqi territory, and that view is influencing the American position."
The reasons for the sometimes subtle, sometimes sharp differences between the European and Anglo-American attitudes to the gulf vary from country to country. The French and the Italians have large Arab populations and therefore a greater incentive to avoid any policy or act that might destabilize Middle East regimes. Germany and the Netherlands have citizenries with a deep antipathy to the use of military force in almost any situation.
But beyond such national differences, there is a broader gap between the European and American views on the crisis.
"There is something schizophrenic at work here," said Lily Sprangers, director of the Atlantic Commission, a Dutch think tank. "The Europeans agree that Iraq is a problem for the whole Western world, but they would be quite satisfied with a partial solution, even a solution that will lead to new problems in six months.
"The Americans would really like to see Saddam Hussein go and are willing to pay the price. That view is too optimistic for Europeans, who feel that with the end of the Cold War a peaceful world is within reach."
Europe's reluctance to support the use of force has led British diplomats to warn that the EC meeting could be used by Saddam as a lever to crack the coalition against him.
The surprise trip to Baghdad Wednesday by a French parliamentary leader, Michel Vauzelle, for talks with the Iraqis, met with considerable dismay in London today. In its lead headline, the Times of London warned, "Gulf unity threatened by French mission," while newspapers in continental Europe welcomed any and all diplomatic efforts.
The firm British alliance with Washington and the thin public support for a war in much of the rest of Europe reflect, at least in part, differing levels of confidence Europeans have in their own countries' global roles.
A poll throughout the EC's 12 nations in November asked Europeans which country had the ability to help resolve the gulf crisis. While 74 percent of those asked named the United States, only 45 percent of Germans, 44 percent of Spaniards and 49 percent of Dutch respondents named their own country as potentially playing a role in easing tensions.
"We Germans have been told for 45 years that we behaved very badly, and it behooves us to be peaceful and humble," said Enno von Loewenstern, editorial page editor of the German daily Die Welt. "So if I were to say in Germany today that we must get rid of Saddam, everybody would say this guy is obviously an old Nazi who wants to trample Jews or at least Iraqis. In America, where you have no inferiority or guilt complex except a little bit from Vietnam, the average guy feels a responsibility to the world."
Von Loewenstern and other European observers said there is no lack of consensus that Saddam is "an awful dictator," but, the editor said, "when you say, 'OK, act on your principles,' the Europeans shrink away."
Others, however, see the European reluctance to join in Washington's tough talk as a beneficial balance to an American role as world policeman.
"This has been an opportunity for the U.S. and Europe to share roles," Kodmani-Darwish said. "The United States takes a hard line, making its military threat credible to Saddam, while the Europeans say we're ready to consider negotiations on the entire Arab-Israeli question. Europeans are closer to the Arab world, with a large Arab population here and a strong feeling against destabilizing the region."
Optimists say the dual approach may yet force Iraq to withdraw, providing Saddam with both a frightening threat and an avenue toward possible concessions. To some British and American observers, however, that is the wrong message to send.
"It all comes down to what you see as the final outcome, after the withdrawal, whether it is by force or not," a U.S. diplomat said. "If your goal is just to free Kuwait, let the Europeans do their thing. If you want to be rid of Saddam once and for all, sending mixed messages is not how it's done."
Meanwhile, two French publications reported today that Iraqi officials had met secretly with Saudis, Kuwaitis and Americans and had agreed to a pullout from Kuwait. The reports, which cited no sources, appeared in the weekly newspaper Canard Enchaine and the magazine Paris Match.
But later, the official Iraqi News Agency said the Foreign Ministry had denied any involvement in such talks or intention to withdraw from Kuwait.
The French reports said U.S. intermediaries had arranged talks in Vienna and Geneva in which Saddam's half-brother, Adnan Barzan Takriti, Iraq's ambassador to U.N. facilities in Geneva, had agreed that Iraq would relinquish Kuwait if Kuwait leased Iraq two offshore islands that would give Iraqi direct access to the Persian Gulf.
Paris Match said Saddam also agreed to international inspection of Iraq's chemical weapons if Israel allowed similar inspections.
News services reported:Britain today ordered the expulsion of eight Iraqi Embassy staffers and 67 other Iraqis -- mainly students -- citing Iraqi threats to attack Western targets if war breaks out. "The Iraqis have made a number of public threats. It is clearly prudent to take all precautions," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said. The expulsions leave the Iraqi Embassy in London with 15 diplomats and 17 non-diplomats.
A laptop computer containing secret military data on Britain's strategy for a possible gulf war was stolen in London Dec. 17 from the car of a high-ranking officer on the staff of the joint commander of British forces in the gulf. The newly disclosed incident caused an outcry in Parliament today and opposition accusations of a major security lapse.