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[casi] Wpost: NATO Allies Trade Barbs Over Iraq

NATO Allies Trade Barbs Over Iraq
Rumsfeld: Critics Are Undermining Alliance's Strength

By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 9, 2003; Page A01

MUNICH, Feb. 8 -- NATO allies traded blunt words over Iraq today, with
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld saying that opposition to war was
undermining the alliance, and French and German officials criticizing
the U.S. approach as risky.

Rumsfeld told a largely European audience at a conference on
international security that "diplomacy has been exhausted, almost." "A
large number of nations have already said they will be with us in a
coalition of the willing, and more are stepping up each day. . . .
Clearly, momentum is building," he said.

Rumsfeld also warned that the United Nations is on "a path of ridicule"
and that NATO could be in danger of heading the same way. He said France
and Germany face diplomatic isolation with their opposition to an attack
on Iraq.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, whose speech immediately
followed Rumsfeld's, seemed taken aback by the relentlessness of the
U.S. defense secretary's criticism. On the question of attacking Iraq,
Fischer asked several times: "Why now? . . . Are we in a situation where
we should resort to violence now?"

At one point Fischer faced the U.S. delegation to the conference and,
switching from German to English, pointedly said, "Excuse me, I am not

Fischer also warned the United States against biting off more than it
can chew in Afghanistan and the Middle East. "You're going to have to
occupy Iraq for years and years," he said. "Are Americans ready for
this?" If the U.S. public balks at the costs of a long-term military
presence in Iraq, he said, then the U.S. military might withdraw from
Iraq prematurely, further destabilizing the Middle East.

The French defense minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, joined the
counterattack, raising her eyebrows at the "combative tone" of
Rumsfeld's comments. "Ad hoc coalitions" are a precarious approach that
can't replace the alliance, she cautioned.

The day exposed extraordinary tension between the United States and two
of its main European allies, and also among European officials
themselves. While all sides condemned the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein,
they clashed repeatedly on how to deal with him.

A few blocks from the conference site, thousands of German antiwar
demonstrators gathered despite a heavy snowstorm in support of their
government's position. With hundreds of police officers nearby, the
protesters rallied in a square in downtown Munich under signs such as
"Remember Vietnam," "Christian Bombs for Muslim Oil" and "Rummy Go

Another banner said, "Welcome to Cuba," an allusion to Rumsfeld's remark
at a congressional hearing last week that the only nations determined
not to help the U.S. attack Iraq are Cuba, Germany and Libya.

The rhetoric inside the conference was almost as heated. At one point,
Portuguese Defense Minister Paulo Portas reminded Fischer of the
failures of European pacifism, beginning with its inability to counter
the rise of Nazism in the 1930s. Fischer responded brusquely, "You don't
need to talk to me about that" and noted that he had supported the use
of force in the Serbian province of Kosovo and in Afghanistan.

But the biggest divide was between the United States and the Europeans.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said that "Iraq is the test" of both the U.N.
and NATO. He charged that the alliance is failing the test because of
the "flawed calculations" and "vacuous posturing" of Germany and France.

McCain and Rumsfeld both said that recent French and German
foot-dragging over even discussing the possible deployment of NATO
assets, such as Patriot anti-missile batteries, to Turkey also
threatened to damage the alliance.

But it was Rumsfeld's vintage performance, which focused almost entirely
on Iraq and the consequences of positions being taken by various nations
on how to deal with it, that set the tone for the day.

Rumsfeld emphasized that war with Iraq is "the last choice" but
essentially argued that it is the only choice left. Diplomacy and
economic sanctions have been "tried extensively" and failed to lead to
Iraq's disarmament, he said.

Asked if he thought Germany and France were simply trying to check the
unrestrained exercise of power by the United States, Rumsfeld responded
that if that were so, "the likely effect would be that Germany and
France would isolate themselves."

Rumsfeld also slammed the United Nations for recently making Libya the
chair of a human rights commission and giving a similar position on a
disarmament panel to Iraq. "That these acts of irresponsibility could
happen now, at this moment of history, is breathtaking," he said.
Rumsfeld called on the United Nations to move "from a path of ridicule
to a path of responsibility."

If the United Nations doesn't change course, it runs the danger of
repeating the failure of its predecessor, the League of Nations,
Rumsfeld warned. "When the League failed to act after the invasion of
Abyssinia [by Italy in 1935], it was discredited as an instrument of
peace and security."

NATO Secretary General George Robertson sought to tone down the
rhetoric, saying that strains in the alliance come and go. But he also
conceded that it is part of his job to minimize cross-Atlantic tensions.
"As secretary general of NATO, I am paid to be an optimist," he said.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) also sought to calm tempers but said:
"It seems to me that the current division we have over policy toward
Iraq is the most substantial challenge the alliance has faced since the
end of the Cold War."

Meanwhile, the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that Germany
and France are working on a disarmament plan for Iraq that would include
the deployment of U.N. soldiers throughout the country, reconnaissance
flights and a tripling of the number of weapons inspectors, news
services reported. A German government spokesman confirmed that the two
countries were collaborating on a plan but would not provide any

Rumsfeld said he had not received official word about the proposal. "I
heard about it from the press. No official word. I have no knowledge of

 2003 The Washington Post Company

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