Eight European leaders today endorsed the Bush administration's position on Iraq in a declaration that exposed and hardened Europe's divisions over the use of military force against Saddam Hussein's government.
Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of Spain and the British prime minister, Tony Blair, led the drive for the declaration, which was also signed by Italy, Denmark, Portugal, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, but pointedly excluded France and Germany, two of the countries that have expressed the strongest reservations about military action. European Union officials were also not consulted, and the current EU president, Prime Minister Costas Simitis of Greece, issued a statement strongly criticizing the declaration.
The declaration, published today in newspapers in Europe and the United States, grew out of a request made last week by the Wall Street Journal for Aznar, Blair and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to contribute an article explaining their point of view on Iraq. Aznar and Blair contacted the other leaders.
The growing public split was further highlighted when the European Parliament, voting largely along traditional party lines, endorsed by a 3-to-2 margin a resolution opposing the use of military force. Joelle Fiss, a spokeswoman for the parliament, said the non-binding resolution came after a lengthy debate that was "spirited, to say the least."
Aznar and Blair held talks tonight in Madrid, before Blair flew to Washington for a meeting with President Bush on Friday. At a news conference, the two prime ministers said the West should seek a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force before attacking Iraq, though Blair emphasized that an "unreasonable" veto should not be allowed to prevent military action.
"The reason why we are acting in this way is not because we want conflict," Blair said, "but because we need to protect the peace and security of our people."
Washington's relations with France and Germany, Western Europe's biggest countries and the European Union's traditional center of gravity, have been tense as the Bush administration has moved toward a military showdown with Iraq. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld's remarks last week characterizing the two countries as "old Europe" further exacerbated feelings in Paris and Berlin. President Bush's State of the Union address, which many Europeans saw as bellicose, did not ease tensions.
France, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, has not ruled out participating in a military campaign against Iraq but has warned it would veto a resolution authorizing force unless U.N. weapons inspectors are given a full opportunity to perform their tasks. Germany has indicated it would not support a military campaign. Their positions have wide support among the European public, with polls showing opposition to U.S. military intervention without U.N. approval varying from 68 percent in Britain to 87 percent in Germany, with other European nations somewhere between.
British and Spanish officials said the eight-country declaration was designed to demonstrate that a substantial number of European countries had different views than France and Germany. The statement extolled "American bravery, generosity and farsightedness" and pledged "unwavering determination and firm international cohesion on the part of all countries for whom freedom is precious."
"The trans-Atlantic relationship must not become a casualty of the current Iraqi regime's persistent attempts to threaten world security," the statement said. "The Security Council must maintain its credibility by ensuring full compliance with its resolutions. We cannot allow a dictator to systematically violate those resolutions." But it concluded: "We are confident that the Security Council will face up to its responsibilities."
Aznar and Blair denied the statement was designed to rebuke France and Germany. But earlier in the day, Blair's official spokesman told reporters that neither country had been consulted about the declaration. French and German officials played down today's split. "We are not trying to set one Europe against another when everyone can see we are defending the same principles -- firmness towards Iraq and a concern to find a solution to the crisis in the framework of the United Nations," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said in remarks before the French senate.
A German official, who insisted on anonymity, said, "We don't want to add oil to the flames. It's a difficult game and we don't want to drift too much apart."
Analysts said both countries would react with anger over the declaration, but that it would also reinforce the effort to ease the United States back to the Security Council for U.N. approval of military action. "The short-term effect will be to make everything worse, especially with the French, who are already in an extraordinary froth of anger about the United States," said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform in London.
"It's certainly an overt but implicit criticism of the French and Germans for taking an antiwar position," he added. "But there's also a very gentle, polite but important message for the Americans that we can't get European public opinion on our side unless we try to get a new U.N. resolution."
Richburg reported from Paris.