Washington, Jan. 30: Even as President George W. Bush considered setting a deadline for military action against Iraq during his talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at Camp David tomorrow, Blair delivered an unexpected prize for the White House on the eve of his arrival here.
The British Prime Minister managed to formally split Europe. He managed to rally seven other European leaders behind the White House.
Together, the eight leaders today published an open letter in The Wall Street Journal and The Times arguing that “the transatlantic relationship (between Europe and the US) must not become a casualty of the current Iraqi regime’s persistent attempts to threaten world security... Today more than ever, the transatlantic bond is a guarantee of our freedom”.
In addition to Blair, the letter was signed by leaders of Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Denmark.
The letter said: “Europe has no quarrel with the Iraqi people (but) we cannot allow a dictator to systematically violate those (UN) resolutions... Sadly this week the UN weapons inspectors have confirmed that his (Saddam Hussein’s) long-established pattern of deception, denial and non-compliance with UN Security Council resolutions is continuing”.
The letter is a shot in the arm for Bush who has found Nato deadlocked on support for his war plans and watched France and Germany hitherto speak for Europe against attacking Iraq.
This week, the US also failed to secure support from the EU for any military preparations against Iraq. But the significance of the letter by Blair and others is that for the first time since the collapse of the USSR and the end of East-West divisions in Europe, the continent has given up all pretence of speaking and acting together.
The collapse of European unity at the altar of US interests will have far-reaching implications on the future of the EU and Nato that go beyond the war against Iraq.
Shortly after signing the letter, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi gave permission for the Americans to use Italian bases for refuelling and other “echnical” functions during the war on Iraq. Italy thus becomes one of the few European states to allow the US to use its facilities in fighting Baghdad.
Berlusconi arrived here as part of hectic diplomatic activity unseen in the US capital since the immediate aftermath of terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister prince Saud al Faisal is also reaching here today for urgent meetings with Bush and secretary of state Colin Powell.
Today’s open letter, however, had no impact on France and Germany, both members of the UN Security Council and the most outspoken critics of US policy on Iraq.
Firmly behind France and Germany are Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg while Ireland, Sweden and Finland have not come out unequivocally for either side.
The Netherlands is pre-occupied with post-election government-making while Greece has the unenviable task, as EU’s current president, of papering over the divisions in the continent.