WASHINGTON, Feb. 12 (UPI) — Hopes of resolving the transatlantic crisis over war with Iraq dimmed Wednesday as both the European Union and NATO remained deadlocked over differences of approach.
A seismic gap separated two opposite views, with some European governments supporting the U.S.-led military build-up in the Gulf against Iraq, and others insisting on giving Baghdad more time to disarm.
At the NATO headquarters in Brussels, alliance members seemed farther than ever from reaching agreement on U.S. proposals on how to protect Turkey in the event of an Iraqi attack. The initiative continued to be blocked by France, which is leading the European anti-war group.
Those who oppose war with Iraq argue that an arms build-up in the only NATO country on Iraq’s order would send aggressive signals and undermine efforts to seek a peaceful solution. The French foreign ministry spokesman said Wednesday, “We make a distinction between two factors — firstly, our solidarity with Turkey, which is total, secondly, our political line in the Iraq crisis, namely support for U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441.”
The resolution of last November orders the U.N. weapons inspectors back to Iraq, and calls on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to provide full disclosure of his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
Meanwhile, leaders of the European Union, which is also split down the middle, will meet Monday in Brussels to discuss the current crisis. The current EU president, Greece, warned that Europe will be plunged into a “profound crisis” if no common ground can be found.
Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis said Wednesday that if no agreement emerges from Monday’s meeting, “the Greek presidency will have exhausted every political and institutional means at its disposal and it will mean a profound crisis for the EU.”
A flurry of diplomatic contacts in the past 24 hours did nothing to shift the positions of key government figures.
Spanish officials said German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder flew to the Balearic island of Lanzarote Wednesday in an effort to persuade Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Asnar to support an extension of U.N. inspections. But the officials said the meeting was a stalemate. Asnar, who is due in Washington for talks with President Bush next week continues to support the Bush administration’s war plans.
In Baghdad, Pope John Paul II’s special envoy, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, waited to deliver a personal letter from the pope to Saddam Hussein, urging the Iraqi leader to comply with the U.N. resolution, and avoid a conflict. While he waited in the Iraqi capital, the cardinal said prayers for peace with a group of Iraqi Christians.
Government officials in Rome said Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi — another supporter of the U.S.-led conflict — had discussed the crisis by phone with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
In Iraq, U.N. inspectors scheduled Thursday to start destroying ten 155 mm artillery shells and four plastic containers filled with mustard gas in al-Mutanna, some 85 miles north of Baghdad. A U.N. spokesman said an Iraqi team will work with the U.N. inspectors on the destruction process, which will take five days.
The artillery shells were discovered in al-Mutanna by inspectors in 1998 and were earmarked for destruction at that time, a spokesman noted. However, but before this could be done, the inspectors left Iraq on the eve of the Desert Fox conflict.
On Friday, the focus shifts back to the U.N. Security Council when chief weapons inspector Hans Blix reports back on his week-end trip to Baghdad. He will report to the council on how the Iraqi authorities reacted to his insistence on a higher level of cooperation, including interviews with Iraqi weapons scientists without supervision and overflights by surveillance planes.
Ten out of the 15 Security Council members favor an extension of the weapons search, with tighter procedures. They include three of the five permanent members with veto power — France, Russia, China.
France and Germany have proposed a plan for toughening the searches by tripling the inspectors, using Mirage IV and Russian planes for aerial surveys, appointing a resident U.N. weapons representative in Baghdad, and other measures.
The other two permanent members — the United States and Britain — are skeptical of the Franco-German plan. They believe that on the evidence, Saddam has stopped well short of full cooperation as required by Resolution 1441. They want the council to pass a second resolution authorizing military action if Saddam does not disarm immediately.
On Wednesday, the Security Council considerably widened the scope of the debate by scheduling a second council session for Feb. 18 in which all the members of the world organization will be able to give their view whether the inspections should continue.
(Dalal Saoud contributed to this report from Baghdad)