- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

MADRID, Jan. 30 (UPI) — The main European supporters of the United States threw their weight behind calls for a second U.N. resolution on Iraqi disarmament Thursday, in a move likely to increase the pressure on U.S. President George W. Bush to seek Security Council backing for any military action against Iraq.

"I intend and prefer this problem to … be taken within the framework of the United Nations … specifically the Security Council, and my firm desire is for a second resolution of the U.N. Security Council," Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar told a news conference through an interpreter.

"That would be good proof of the fact that the international community is united in defending international legality and (the legitimacy) of the Security Council," he added, according to a transcript provided by the British foreign office.

Aznar and British Prime Minister Tony Blair took questions from reporters after meeting held the same day a letter signed by eight European heads of government expressed strong support for the United States' hard line against Iraq, but also spoke of "our wish to pursue the U.N. route."

In a pointed reference to France and Germany — both of which have expressed deep misgivings about military action — the letter points out, "All of us are bound by Security Council Resolution 1441, which was adopted unanimously."

The resolution, passed last November, calls on Iraq to verifiably rid itself of any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, and threatens unspecified "serious consequences" if it does not.

Describing the Iraqi regime as a "clear threat to world security," the letter accuses Saddam Hussein of continuing his "long-established pattern of deception, denial and non-compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions."

The letter was published in several newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic, including the London Times, Spain's El Pais and The Wall Street Journal.

The letter appeals for European unity in the effort to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, but French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder were pointedly absent from the signatories.

The letter, Aznar's inspiration, is an attempt to shore up relations with Washington after months of heated debate about how to deal with the Iraqi leader.

Last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sparked a storm of criticism in the EU by describing France and Germany as "problems" and dividing the continent into an "old Europe" opposed to war and a "new Europe" supportive of Washington.

Aznar and Blair were joined as signatories by the heads of government of Denmark, Portugal, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, and by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who met Aznar Thursday morning ahead of his trip to Washington for talks with Bush.

The meetings in Madrid and Washington were held amid a flurry of diplomatic activity on both sides of the Atlantic ahead of the U.N. Security Council meeting next week, which will consider what action — if any — the world body should take or authorize to rid Iraq of suspected weapons of mass destruction.

A second resolution was needed at that meeting, Aznar said, because of the need for the Security Council to "assume its responsibilities, would assess the situation and adopt the measures made necessary by the circumstances at the time."

But he did not address the question of what Spain might do if a resolution is vetoed by one of the five permanent members of the Security Council. At least two of the so-called P5 — France and China — have expressed reservations about the need for military action to disarm Iraq.

By contrast, Prime Minister Blair was very clear — as he has been consistently — about the alternative to U.N.-backed action. While saying that he agreed entirely with Aznar, he added, "If the process of disarmament can't happen through the U.N. inspectors, then it will have to happen by force."

U.S. officials have said that — absent Iraqi co-operation and U.N.-backed military action — the United States will lead what it calls a "coalition of the willing" to disarm Iraq by force. In Washington, Bush said Thursday that the time was running out for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to prove to the world he was not hiding weapons of mass destruction. Baghdad had "weeks not months," he said.

Describing Security Council Resolution 1441 as the last opportunity for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Aznar suggested that Baghdad be given about a month to prove it was complying. Blair for his part said it was not a matter of time but of judgment.

"The time, as I've said again on many occasions, is not a question of setting some arbitrary time limit; it is a question of making a judgment … Is Saddam cooperating or not?"

As Blair and Aznar were speaking, their letter was drawing an angry reaction from the French.

Foreign Minister Dominque de Villepan — describing it as a rebuff to the efforts of France and Germany to lead in foreign policy — said it was an attempt "to oppose one Europe against another," according to Radio France International.

(Reported by Gareth Harding in Brussels, Elizabeth Bryant in Paris and Shaun Waterman in Washington)

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