Munich, Feb. 8 (Reuters): Deep US-European divisions over Iraq were laid bare today as US officials said European reticence over war was harming transatlantic ties, while Germany insisted peace should be given a chance.
US secretary Donald Rumsfeld told an annual security conference in Munich that 12 years of diplomacy, economic sanctions and limited military strikes had failed to disarm Iraq and the world would know in “days or weeks” if war was needed.
He branded as “inexcusable” moves by France, Germany and Belgium to stall Nato planning for the protection of Turkey in the event of a war in Iraq, saying they were undermining Nato’s credibility and illustrating deep divisions within Europe.
German foreign minister Joschka Fischer told the conference Berlin stood by its obligations to its Nato partners but defended not wanting to push forward planning on Turkey, saying he was still not persuaded of the need for war with Iraq.
“I am not convinced. That is my problem. I cannot go to the public and say these are the reasons because I don’t believe in them,” he said, switching briefly from German into English.
Waving banners displaying anti-war slogans and blowing whistles, about 6,000 protesters took to the streets of Munich amid heavy snowfall today to demonstrate against the conference and the threat of military action against Iraq.
Fischer said Germany agreed that the end of the Cold War had disturbed the balance of power in West Asia but said Islamic extremists and not Iraq posed the main threat and bringing peace to Israel should be the first priority.
He also questioned whether the US public was ready for the long-term occupation that would be needed after an Iraq war.
A speech to the conference by Russian defence minister Sergei Ivanov made no mention of Iraq, focusing instead on security threats in Chechnya and Central Asia and arguing they were an integral part of global concern over Islamic extremists.
Rumsfeld said many in Europe had failed to see the danger of new security threats thrown up by the end of the Cold War and said Washington’s main concern was states like Iraq acquiring weapons of mass destruction and passing them onto terrorists.
He said Washington hoped to avoid military action, but a growing number of nations were serious about eliminating Iraq’s alleged nuclear, chemical and biological arms but would only succeed if the world was united and determined to use force. Rumsfeld said it would be clear in “days or weeks we’re going to know whether they are going to cooperate”.
Baghdad has denied repeatedly that it has such weapons.
“No one wants war. War is never a first or an easy choice. But the risks of war need to be balanced against the risks of doing nothing while Iraq pursues weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
“Clearly, momentum is building, momentum that sends a critically important message to the Iraqi regime — about our seriousness of purpose and the world’s determination that Iraq disarm.”
Germany and France are working on a new plan to try to avert war in Iraq that would compel Baghdad to admit thousands of UN troops to enforce disarmament and tighter sanctions, a magazine said today.
A German government spokesman confirmed Berlin and Paris were working together to find a peaceful alternative to war with Iraq, but would not provide any details of the efforts.
Germany’s leading news magazine Der Spiegel said the idea had originated in the office of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Berlin and Paris had been working on the details of the initiative in secret talks since the beginning of the year.
German defence minister Peter Struck declined to comment.