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[casi] News, 12-19/02/03 (2)

News, 12-19/02/03 (2)


*  Iraq and the 'astonishing quiescence' of Arab leaders
* Please handle with care
*  The great Arab face-saving theater


*  Vatican rolls out red carpet for Christian Aziz
*  Aziz prays at tomb of St Francis 'the pacifist'
*  Who did Chirac and Schroder shock the most? The federalists
*  NATO Settles Rift Over Aid to Turks in Case of a War
*  Supporters desert Aznar as Spaniards reject conflict
*  European Union Says Iraq Must Disarm Quickly and Fully


Daily Star, Lebanon, 13th February

The Eid al-Adha holiday provides no respite from the overpowering feeling
that the Arab world is about to be subjected to a potentially horrific
ordeal in which it has no say, and which could determine its future for
years to come.

To the backdrop of the widening rift between the US and Europe over
Washington's plans to invade Iraq, Abdelbari Atwan, publisher/editor of
pan-Arab Al-Quds al-Arabi, wonders why Arab leaders are failing to provide
support to the budding international anti-war camp.

He writes that after meeting the Jordanian monarch in Aqaba, and then
conferring with the Syrian and Libyan leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh at the
weekend, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak "brought us the glad tidings that
the Arabs can do nothing to prevent or push back the war on Iraq, and that
it's up to the Iraqi president to do what he can in this regard."

What Mubarak failed to spell out "is that the Arab leaders he met have come
to the firm conclusion that Saddam Hussein should step down and look for
some temporary sanctuary, pending his permanent relocation, in an orange
tracksuit befitting his stature, to Guantanamo Bay to await trial as a war

Mubarak, says Atwan, apparently "did not hear" US Secretary of State Colin
Powell's declaration to a congressional panel last week that the invasion of
Iraq is aimed at "reshaping that (Middle East) region in a positive way that
will enhance US interests." America defines its interests principally in
terms of a strong Israel and cheap oil, and the changes it wants to make in
pursuit of those twin objectives are not restricted to Iraq but encompass
Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Libya.

With the world polarizing into two camps, one focused on war and the other
demanding that arms inspections continue, "we would have expected the Sharm
el-Sheikh summit to produce an Arab position in support of the latter but,
as usual, we were disappointed," Atwan says. Indeed, the leader of the
biggest Arab state even shrugged off suggestions that the end-March summit
should be brought forward to deal with the Iraq crisis.

Meanwhile, Atwan continues, the defense ministers of the six Gulf
Cooperation Council partners met under Saudi auspices in Jeddah, and issued
a "wacky" announcement that they had agreed to a request from Kuwait to send
their joint military force to the emirate to help protect it. "As though
Kuwait, on whose soil over 120,000 American troops are already deployed,
needs a few hundred pot-bellied soldiers who have never fought a war in
their history," he remarks.

Kuwait is not threatened with aggression, but is hosting a massive American
invasion force that is poised to invade and occupy Iraq and kill tens of
thousands of its people, Atwan writes. "So are Gulf forces being sent out
there to take part in the invasion, or merely as a prelude to a collective
decision to open up the Gulf's bases to American warplanes?"

In the Beirut daily As-Safir, publisher Talal Salman writes that the Arab
regimes' sluggishness over Iraq reflects their terror of being associated
with Saddam in America's eyes.

He writes that no Arab leader has considered visiting Baghdad to mediate in
the crisis or confront the regime there with some Arab viewpoint, whatever
it may be. When Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa dared do so (as his
job requires), the official media in a number of Arab states vilified him.
Indeed, no Arab leader has been in touch with Saddam for years - at least
not openly - and even "famous friends," like Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh,
have kept their distance in order to avoid being linked to him.

This is also partly because "the harsh campaign America has been waging
against its 'traditional friends' among the Arab leaders has forced them to
keep busy defending themselves and the fate of their 'thrones,'" Salman
remarks. "They were reduced to appeasing Washington at any cost, and it was
natural for them to defer any discussion of Iraq until after they had
reassured themselves that they had regained its approval."

The war preparations have underlined the intense disapproval not just of the
Iraqi regime, but of all the Arab governments, Salman remarks. Their
confusion over Iraq is telling. They have failed to forge any common
position at all on the crisis, and are rowing over whether or not to bring
forward their "banned" annual summit to discuss the situation. They have
been ruthless in cracking down against any popular anti-war protests. And
none of them has dared put to Saddam the "offer" they have been debating
amongst themselves - which initially was, "Save your regime by sacrificing
your army and all your other sources of strength," and then changed to,
"Save yourself by sacrificing your regime," he says.

"The reason they (Arab leaders) have been hesitant about adopting this
magnanimous offer is that Washington might apply it more generally, and may
already have brandished it in the face of some allied regimes, not least its
oldest friends in the region," Salman writes.

Khaled al-Shami suggests in Al-Quds al-Arabi that Mubarak seems to be
positioning himself to eventually come out in support of America over Iraq.

He writes that the Egyptian president's remarks about the Arabs being
incapable of preventing the imminent American invasion coincide with a
sudden and evidently orchestrated "campaign" of denunciation against the
Baghdad regime in Egypt's government controlled press.

Shami writes that Washington has been putting pressure on its Arab allies,
including Egypt, to come out in support of its war in the same way that the
leaders of eight right-wing European governments did by signing a joint
"pledge of obeisance" to the US aimed at undermining European opposition to
military action.

According to one report, Mubarak was "advised" by confidants to "hitch a
ride on the American train before it is too late, in order to prevent Egypt
from being excluded from the post-war arrangements and deprived of the
economic and political dividends," says Shami. He promptly dispatched his
son Gamal to the US as part of a high-powered delegation including his top
foreign policy advisor Dr. Osama al-Baz and other pro-American figures. The
aim of the trip was to mend fences "after channels of dialogue were blocked
and Uncle Sam's envoys began avoiding what always used to be an obligatory
stopover on their regional tours."

This wooing of America followed the breakdown of Egypt's efforts to forge a
common position with other Arab countries over Iraq, mostly for reasons
outside Cairo's control. This despite visits by Mubarak to Saudi Arabia, the
UAE, Kuwait and Jordan and his hosting of the Syrian and Libyan leaders at
Sharm el-Sheikh.

But whatever the reasons for Egypt's "backslide," Shami says there is no
excuse for the failure of Cairo and the other Arab capitals to throw their
weight behind European-led efforts to ensure that the arms inspectors are
given more time to complete their mission in Iraq. Although Egypt's foreign
minister has voiced support for those endeavors, Mubarak's remarks
suggesting that war is inevitable undermine them.

Shami argues that Egypt's effective "withdrawal" from the anti-war camp is
not in its own interest - even in the narrow and immediate economic sense of
the word, following the government's sudden capitulation to longstanding
pressure to float the national currency. Experts estimate that a US war on
Iraq would cost Egypt between $2 billion and $6 billion in lost exports,
jobs and other earnings - far in excess of American aid. Mubarak is also
being honest when he warns of the catastrophic regional consequences an
invasion of Iraq could have.

"It might not be realistic to expect Egypt to lead a worldwide diplomatic
offensive against the US position, similarly to major countries like Russia,
France and Germany," Shami says. "But the least that could be expected of it
would be to join their coalition, and thereby compel America to take
Egyptian and Arab national considerations into account in its strategy," at
a time when it is either ignoring the Arabs or threatening them with the
prospect of "reshaping" their region.

"And if Egypt cannot prevent America from attacking, it could at least
refrain from offering free concessions - such as inviting the butcher Ariel
Sharon to visit Cairo while his partner George W. Bush is preparing to
occupy Baghdad - an irony history might never forget."

Leading Egyptian Islamist commentator Fahmi Howeidi warns that Powell's
remarks about the US "reshaping" the Middle East "in a positive way that
will enhance US interests" and Israel's after it has occupied Iraq "should
be taken seriously."

He sees them as an echo of earlier calls made by neoconservative ideologues
within and close to the Bush administration, who have spoken of plans to
radically alter the balance of power in the region in Israel's favor by
"changing the regimes in this or that country and even terminating entire
states." Intriguing scenarios have been suggested in this context. One
posited Iraq as the "tactical objective," with Saudi Arabia as the
"strategic objective" and Egypt as the "prize." Another suggested using war
on Iraq to act out a chain of events under which "Palestine becomes Israel,
Jordan becomes Palestine, and Iraq becomes the Hashemite Kingdom."

In his weekly opinion piece, featured in Cairo's semi-official Al-Ahram and
a number of other daily newspapers throughout the Arab world, Howeidi draws
parallels with the period immediately following World War I.

At the time, Howeidi recalls, the Arabs were inspired by America and its
Wilsonian principles of self-determination, and were mistrustful of the
colonialist Europeans. "This time, the roles are reversed, with the US as
the object of our mistrust and some of us pinning hopes on Europe. But the
difference is not that great. Less important than the identity of the
culprit is the fact of the crime, and the fact that the we are the victims!"

The English had promised the Arabs independence if they revolted against the
Ottoman Empire. They did so, but London and Paris had secretly agreed to
carve up the region between them. They proceeded to occupy the Arab
countries and earmark Palestine as a future homeland for European Jews,
without considering the wishes of the inhabitants of the region, and the
Arab leaders who had trusted the colonial powers were humiliated.

"Among the differences this time, stemming from the differences in the
balances of power, is that the powerful actors are not concealing their
objectives," Howeidi writes. "They have declared openly that the region will
be targeted for reshaping. There is no longer any reason for them to keep
things secret. Many questions remain unanswered about whom, where, why and
when, but the intentions are clear, and were not concealed by the secretary
of state or other principals and officials of the US administration. They
have said candidly that the purpose is to enhance American interests."

This, says Howeidi, is not shocking in itself. "The real shock is this
astonishing quiescence which has overcome the Arab world. What I fear most,
amid this quiescence, is for people to lose confidence in any possibility of
collective and institutional action, if only to request clarification, and
for some to come to the conclusion that there is no escaping individual
initiatives -  which could plunge Arab society into a period of anarchy
whose scope God alone can know."

In the Saudi-run pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat, Iraqi Kurdish commentator Sami
Shourosh argues that the Turkish government's seeming willingness to go
along with a US war on Iraq is motivated chiefly by domestic concerns.

He argues that Ankara's avowed reasons for opposing war - fear of a Kurdish
state emerging in northern Iraq, and concern about the economic impact - are
overstated. The Iraqi Kurds have no illusions about secession, and
Washington has shown (with its offer of a $14 billion aid package) that it
appreciates the need to offset the economic losses Turkey stands to incur.

Shourosh believes that the real reason Ankara is so apprehensive is that it
fears war on Iraq will rekindle Turkish Kurd separatism at home. The 1991
Gulf War did that by inadvertently providing the Kurdistan Workers Party
with a rear base, and renewed conflict in Iraq can be expected to have a
similar impact. That, in turn, would provide the Turkish military
establishment, whose wings have been gently clipped by the Islam-based
Justice and Development Party government, to regain the ascendancy and
reassert its control over the country's politics, he writes.

by Rami G. Khouri
Daily Star, Lebanon, 13th February

Last week US Secretary of State Colin Powell said that after the completion
of American led action to change the regime in Iraq the United States would
work to rearrange the Middle East in order to better suit US interests.
There are few areas in life where I have more knowledge than Powell, but
rearranging the political configuration of the Middle East is one of those
areas. We Middle Easterners (Arabs, Iranians, Turks, Israelis, Kurds, and
others) have a long track record of both arranging others' national
configurations and having our own rearranged by others.

This open letter to Powell offers suggestions for applying the rich lessons
of past similar episodes that produced a new map of the region, hoping that
whatever emerges from the upcoming adventure may make some sense for all
concerned, and not only for the United States.

Dear Colin,

Greetings from the Arab world. Since you and your president are determined
to rearrange the Arab world to better suit American national interests, I
thought you might profit from the following few suggestions that attempt to
bring together the lessons of our history with the intent of your policy:

‹ Avoid straight line borders: The map of the Arab world is peculiar for
having so many national borders that are straight lines, a phenomenon
totally missing from, say, Europe, where countries emerged through a more
natural process of historical evolution. Straight line borders are typically
the work of foreign map-makers who don't know the area they are
reconfiguring. Such borders tend to ignore local ethnic, religious, and
national realities, and usually lead to conflict years later. That's one
reason why several hundred thousand of your young American soldiers are now
in our region, rifles loaded.

‹ Seek balance among demography, geography, geology and hydrology: The
modern Middle East was largely configured by British and French who sought
to ensure their own colonial interests; they created new countries whose
fundamental assets and attributes often make little logical sense. We have
tiny states (like Kuwait, UAE, Qatar) with small populations, plentiful oil,
and virtually no arable land or water; large states (like Saudi Arabia) with
massive land areas but limited agricultural land and water; other large
states (Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Morocco) with a better balance of land,
water, minerals and people, but Western-launched and maintained political
histories that have largely seen those resources wasted; and small states
(Lebanon, Jordan) with modest populations and hard-working people, but that
have been buffeted by the distortions and irrationalities of the surrounding
area. (By the way, the only Arab state that seems to have all the basic
components of viable statehood - people, land, water, and energy - is Iraq,
which became a regional power.)

‹ Keep your eye on our airline schedules: One of the problems we suffered
after our last reconfiguration by the British and French around 1920 was
that most of the Arab countries had closer relations with London and Paris
than they did with each other. This was reflected in the route maps and
scheduled flights of our Arab national airlines, most of which went to Paris
and London more frequently than they went to other Arab capitals. This
indicated that political and economic ties with the former colonial powers
were more important for the nascent Arab ruling political powers than
relations with other Arabs. If the new Arab world you have in mind sees Arab
airlines flying to Washington and New York more frequently than to other
Arab cities, you should catch that early on as a sign of impending trouble,
and put one of your bright young assistants to work on either rescheduling
Arab air carriers or doing a better job of reconfiguring states and their
exercise of power.

‹ Consider applying the principle of "the consent of the governed" to the
people being rearranged. There is nothing inherently wrong with being
rearranged; peoples, societies, and states do it all the time, to themselves
and to others. But our experience in the Arab world indicates that if the
people being reconfigured have a say in the process, and their new national
map corresponds somehow to their identities and aspirations, the resulting
reconfigured region may prove to be both satisfying to its citizens and
stable within the global context. The British and French did not do this
around 1920, and left behind a mess of fragile, often violent, states that
you have inherited. Osama bin Laden and his brand of terror can be traced,
in part, to the delayed consequences of the messy reconfiguration that the
French and British carried out; that episode resulted in unsatisfactory,
intemperate statehood in many cases, a terrible modern legacy of security
states, and tensions that finally exploded in the 1990s and beyond.

‹ Do not double-cross or make promises you do not intend to keep. A major
deficiency of the 1920s map-making exercise was that it was defined by
instances of deceit, and did not treat all peoples in the region fairly. The
Zionists (later Israelis) were given far more importance than the
Palestinians, and the Kurds were sold out again, to mention only two
prominent examples of imperial inequity.

You should avoid such duplicity at all costs. If freedom and justice are
"indivisible for all," as your American credo states so eloquently, then
American map-making should address the rights of "all" in this region, not
just the rights of some. If you redraw our map to suit Israel more than the
Palestinians, or Turkey more than the Kurds, for example, you will only
ensure that your children and grandchildren, and mine, will re-arm and fight
another day. We surely want to avoid that, and the way to ensure stability
and peace is to apply in the Middle East the same principles of universal
equal rights that define the American national experience.

I have other suggestions, but there is no more room here, and little time
left before your armada moves against Iraq. Please pass this letter on to
those young lads in your office who are working on the new map of my world.

I remain, sincerely yours


Rami G. Khouri, executive editor of The daily Star, wrote this column from

by Pepe Escobar
Asia Times, 19th February

CAIRO - The media crunched in the courtyard of the Arab League headquarters
in Cairo on Sunday were desperate to know something, anything, on where the
leaders of the Middle East stood, but Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince
Saud al Faisal had other things on his mind. He was going out for lunch.
Foie gras maybe? The other foreign ministers of the 22 members of the Arab
League stuck to their kebabs inside the building.

Later, the Kuwaitis also went out - not for foie gras but for
"consultations". The wait was tense: everybody knew, for instance, that
Kuwait, converted into an American armed camp, could not possibly agree with
Iraq on the current standoff. Only at 10.30 in the evening was a declaration
issued. And it was deeply disappointing.

There's something unreal about the Arab League. The extraordinary meeting of
foreign ministers was supposed to reinforce the Beirut declaration of March
2002, according to which an attack on an Arab country is considered an
attack on all 22 members of the Arab League. Indeed, Arab states this time
sort of agreed "that they will not accept, cooperate with, deal with, rally
to or facilitate a strike on Iraq", in the words of Arab League secretary
general Amr Mussa. But they could not even agree on a date for a summit of
heads of state to hammer out a solid message to Washington. No wonder: at
least three members of the league - Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar - totally
contradict the message enunciated by Mussa. The secretary general tried to
put on his bravest face: "A summit will happen." Maybe after a war on Iraq?

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has lobbied non-stop to convene a summit in
Sharm-al Sheikh. According to Egyptian officials, 15 of the 22 Arab League
members have already agreed. Even Kuwait, through Foreign Minister Sheikh
Sabah al-Jabar al-Sabah, has confirmed that it will attend the summit. A
date was floated: February 22. Then another: February 27. But the question
remains: a summit for what? The best that the Arabs can hope for at this
stage is to attach their camels to the European peace caravan led by France
and Germany plus Russia at the UN Security Council.

And that's exactly what appears to be happening. One day before the
also-extraordinary European Union summit in Brussels, Greek Foreign Minister
George Papandreou - whose country holds the current presidency of the EU -
and European external relations commissioner Chris Patten were also present
at the Cairo meeting. Papandreou said that he talked one-on-one to Iraqi
Foreign Minister Naji Sabri and advised Baghdad to comply with each and
every UN disarmament term, the only way to avoid a US-led war: the position
was set in stone the day after at the EU summit in Brussels. Mubarak was due
in Germany on Tuesday on a state visit, and will meet French President
Jacques Chirac in Paris on Thursday, on the margins of a Franco-African
summit. Mubarak at least must be given the credit of trying to maneuver to
find a unified Arab position. But like the 2 million hajjis recently in
Mecca dressed in white and praying as one, the appearances of uniformity
belie the differences.

There's a lot of wishful thinking all over the Arab world - as if people are
fatalistically waiting for a divine intervention from Allah himself. In
practical terms, this would happen in the form of a package to be formulated
at the still-tentative Arab summit. The Egyptian Saudi plan is to urge
Saddam Hussein to fully comply with anything - for the sake of the
long-suffering Iraqi population; or step down, leave Iraq along with his
family and the leaders of the Ba'ath Party, and exile himself in any Arab
country under the protection of the Arab League.

Arab disunity among their unelected leaders is mirrored by Arab silence in
the streets. Well over 10 million people, mostly marching in the streets of
Europe this weekend carrying colorful, good-humored banners and quoting Hans
Blix verbatim, have de facto vetoed the war. This is a thunderous political
development - comparable to the European popular revolutions of 1848 and the
Eastern European peaceful revolutions of 1989. The numbers are particularly
staggering in three countries whose governments are staunch supporters of
the Bush administration: 3 million people marching in Spain (including 1.3
million in Barcelona alone); almost 3 million people in Rome; and 1.5
million in London (these are the real figures, not the "police estimates"
quoted by the mainstream media).

Meanwhile, what were the Arabs doing? The Arabs are about to witness nothing
less than the invasion of the eastern flank of the Arab nation. Only Arabs
can fully understand what this invasion really means - something that US
Secretary of State Colin Powell himself finally admitted last week on the
record: the US wants to change the whole map of the Middle East, which was
drawn by the West (Britain and France) at the end of the Ottoman empire.
Arabs can scream in private, but they cannot shout in public. In Cairo, for
example, they were afraid, very much afraid, like the concierge of a
five-star hotel surreptitiously mimicking the gesture of a man handcuffed.
On Saturday morning, government officials "had no idea" where the protest
would take place. Less than 600 people eventually showed up, surrounded by
no less than 3,000 security police. Even in Tel Aviv, 2,000 people protested
against the war.

Mubarak, the Saud family, King Abdullah in Jordan, they may all agree with
the anger and the fatalistic feeling of impotence of their own populations,
but still they don't allow people to express it. Tyrannies anywhere assume
that to prevent the expression of popular will is to prevent the will from
existing. There were indeed thousands protesting in Baghdad, and 200,000 in
Damascus, but these were in support of the respective regimes. They only
reflect the Ba'ath party's ability - in Iraq and in Syria - to organize or
intimidate its citizens. The backwardness of Arab regimes even makes one
feel a certain sympathy for the American dream - but not the methods - of
bringing democracy to the Middle East. The problem is, democracy cannot be
imposed by bombing and territorial invasion: Arabs themselves will have to
learn from scratch - and this will certainly take a political and social
earthquake, as in Iran in 1979.

What are most current Arab leaders good for, apart from providing a good
life for themselves and their cronies? America wants to bring them down - at
least the ones it doesn't yet keep on a leash. Al-Qaeda also wants to bring
them down - for different reasons, and in a completely different register.
In his latest audiotape, Osama bin Laden says, "The recent deployment of
forces for an attack on Iraq is only a link in the chain of continuing
attacks on the countries of this region, including Egypt, Syria, Iran and
Sudan. However, their real intention is to conquer and divide the land of
the two holy sanctuaries [Saudi Arabia], as they have long realized the
strategic value of this target, ever since this objective was passed on from
Britain to the United States 60 years ago ..." Any Arab would agree with
that, and many a reputable Western think tank as well. Asia Times Online has
reported that plans are being made at the Foreign Office in London for a
partition of Arabia: the Arabs keep the holy places, the West keeps the oil.
(Listening to Europe , Feb 1)

In the same audiotape, bin Laden then examines the proliferation of
unrepresentative Hamid Karzai-style clones (as in Afghanistan) as the great
drama of the Arab world: "What is the difference between Karzai the non-Arab
and Karzai the Arab? Who implanted and established the rulers of the Arabian
Gulf? They are none other than the crusaders, who appointed the Karzai of
Kabul, established the Karzai of Pakistan, and implanted the Karzai of
Kuwait and the Karzai of Bahrain and the Karzai of Qatar and others. Who
appointed the Karzai of Riyadh? ... they were none other than the crusaders,
and they are continuing to enslave us to this very day."

Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi intellectual exiled in the US, advances an
explanation for Arab inertia: since the end of World War II, Arabs
increasingly view themselves as eternal victims "condemned to pursue a
combat-like Sisyphus against absolute or satanic injustice". He contends
that this inferiority complex is found in different degrees among all the
peoples in the Middle East: Palestinians, Kurds, Armenians, Chaldeans,
Oriental Christians, Turkmen - Shi'ite and Sunni. Makiya says that
especially after the unexpected Israeli victory in 1967, "this inferiority
complex became the engine of politics and culture; it was the basis on which
regimes like Saddam's in Iraq and Hafez Assad's in Syria were built. Another
factor was that deadly anti-Americanism changed hands from Arab secular
nationalists to religious fanatics who used to be marginalized".

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal has told the BBC that an
American attack without a UN resolution would be perceived in the Arab world
as "an aggression". Arab leaders contemplate the scenario with desperation -
because they know in the current fundamentalist American administration mode
("if you're not with us, you're with the terrorists"), the regimes which are
not America's vassals yet are condemned to extinction. From America's point
of view, the Roman "divide and rule" maxim as applied to the Arab world has
been a resounding success. For Arab leaders, there's nothing left but the
great Arab face-saving theater. It may not be enough to prevent a massive
political and social earthquake in the not too distant future.

EUROPES, OLD AND NEW,,3-575893,00.html

by Richard Owen
The Times, 13th February

THE Vatican is rolling out the red carpet for Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi Deputy
Prime Minister, as part of a last-ditch attempt by the Pope to avert an
"unjustified war".

The newspaper Corriere della Sera said that Mr Aziz would be "treated like a
media star" when he arrives today for a five-day visit to Rome and Assisi.
He will be staying in a luxury hotel on the Via Veneto with his own staff
and bodyguards.

The Vatican is hoping to engineer a meeting between Mr Aziz and Kofi Annan,
the UN Secretary-General, who arrives in Rome on Monday. However, the visit
of Mr Aziz, a Chaldean Christian, is causing political embarrassment in
Italy, whose Centre Right Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has sided with
the United States by offering bases, airspace and moral support.

Pierferdinando Casini, the Speaker of Parliament, said yesterday that he
would refuse to meet Mr Aziz because this would give legitimacy to the
Baghdad regime. It is not clear if Mr Aziz will meet Signor Berlusconi but
he is likely to be received by Franco Frattini, the Italian Foreign

Avvenire, the Italian Catholic daily, said that there was a "long list" of
Italian and Vatican figures "lining up to shake Tariq Aziz's hand" despite
claims by human rights organisations that his hands were "stained with
crimes against humanity".

Diplomats said that Mr Aziz might also meet unnamed "European politicians
linked to the Franco-German plan for disarming Iraq without recourse to
war". The highlight of Mr Aziz's trip will be his audience with the Pope in
the Vatican tomorrow, when he is expected to invite the pontiff to Baghdad.
Although some conservative Catholics have sought to persuade the Pope that
conflict with Iraq is a just war, many Catholic bishops and dioceses have
echoed the Pope's assertion that war is always a defeat for humanity.

The Pope who opposed the 1991 Gulf War, regards Iraq as the cradle of
Christianity because it contains the birthplace of Abraham at Ur of the
Chaldees. His personal envoy is on a peace mission in Baghdad and likely to
meet President Saddam Hussein today.

Avvenire said that Mr Aziz's visit would be one long round of ceremonies,
receptions and dinners. He is to visit the Italian Parliament and then meet
"stars from the world of Italian culture" at a dinner in his honour. He is
to appear on a television chat show tonight and at the Foreign Press Club

Mr Aziz travels to Assisi at the weekend, a visit apparently timed to ensure
that he is not in Rome for Saturday's anti-war march, expected to attract a
million protesters.

Father Vincenzo Coli, custodian of the Basilica of St Francis, said that
there was intolerable hostility towards Mr Aziz. The Franciscan friars, he
said, "hold out the hand of peace to everybody".

"We don't ask people to account for themselves. Ex-terrorists have come here
to pray to St Francis, and industrialists accused of corruption. They all
come to find themselves." He said that Mr Aziz would light a lamp of peace
at Assisi and pray at the tomb of St Francis.

He would also handle one of the Basilica's greatest treasures, a small ivory
horn given to St Francis by Sultan Kamil of Egypt in 1219 when the saint was
in the Middle East seeking to halt the Crusades, which he regarded as
hypocritical and bloodthirsty and driven by Western economic, rather than
religious, interests. The horn was used by St Francis to summon the faithful
to prayer.

The visit was organised by Father Jean-Marie Benjamin, a French priest in
Rome who has often visited Baghdad.

However, Charles Forrest, of the British human rights organisation Indict,
who is in Rome, said that Mr Aziz deserved a Nuremberg-style trial.

"This is his first visit to Europe for five years and a chance to arrest
him," Mr Forrest said. "He is implicated in a long list of crimes against
humanity including the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the maltreatment of
hostages during the 1991 Gulf War, the torture and murder of thousands of
opponents of the regime and genocide against the Kurds.

"He is as barbaric as Saddam Hussein himself. It is scandalous that he can
travel freely and be received by the Pope and the Italian authorities."

There are almost a million Christians in Iraq, 70 per cent of them
Chaldeans, in a predominantly Muslim population of 23 million. According to
Raphael Bidawid, Patriarch of Babylonia of the Chaldees, Iraqi Christians
enjoy the protection of Saddam Husain.

The Chaldeans are descended from the Nestorians, named after Nestorius, a
5th century monk from Antioch who was condemned for heresy for claiming that
the Incarnate Christ was not God and man simultaneously but separate
persons, one human and one divine.

The Nestorian Church survived, with its headquarters in Baghdad from the 8th
century. It was later reconciled with Rome and is in communion with the

by Bruce Johnston in Assisi
Daily Telegraph, 16th February

Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi deputy prime minister, prayed before the tomb of St
Francis of Assisi yesterday as he continued his controversial campaign in
Italy to drum up support for his country's case against war.

The media event unfolded to the solemn strains of organ music in the crypt
of the basilica of St Francis in the Umbrian hilltown of Assisi. St Francis
was the great pacifist figure at the time of the Christian Crusades against
the Muslims in the 13th century.

But the visit by Mr Aziz, who is the only one of Saddam Hussein's inner
circle to be Christian, has provoked strong criticism in Italy. Corriere
della Sera, the country's best selling quality newspaper, argued in a
front-page editorial that by hosting Mr Aziz and giving him a "peace lamp",
the friars were providing legitimacy to the Iraqi regime.

Mr Aziz, a Chaldean Catholic whose oriental rite is in line with Rome,
joined the friars after prayers for lunch. He later wrote in their guest
book: "May God the Almighty grant peace to the people of Iraq and the whole
world. Amen."

Later, he said: "I think there is some cause for hope for peace, should
Allah will it."

Franciscans said the visit had been "in the spirit" of an inter-religious
peace conference which the Pope held in Assisi in the aftermath of September
11 when leaders of world faiths pledged to act against all forms of
terrorism or war.

In the ceremony's high point, a replica of an oil-burning "lamp of peace",
which the Pope left on the tabernacle before the tomb of St Francis in
January 2002, was lit and given to Mr Aziz.

On Friday, Mr Aziz met the Pope, who is adamantly opposed to war, while in
Baghdad, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, the papal envoy, met Saddam yesterday.

The Franciscans rejected suggestions that they had played into the hands of
Saddam's propaganda machine. "Communion with everyone is an important part
of the Franciscan philosophy," Brother Enzo, who was born in Northampton,
told The Telegraph.

by Daniel Hannan
Daily Telegraph, 16th February

Eurosceptics, especially Tories, have a straightforward view of the row in
Nato. They see, in the Franco-Belgian-German position, ingratitude laced
with cowardice.

They believe that anti-war rhetoric is a cover for anti-Americanism. And
they detect a plot to destroy the Atlantic alliance and replace it with an
EU defence structure.

When I set out to write this column this was, broadly, my own view. I had
planned to gather some provocative anti-American quotes from Euro-MPs, to
fulminate about the Axis of Snivel, to fret about the end of the Western

I wish I could have written this: it would have bolstered my prejudices and
settled my occasional qualms about the coming war. The trouble is, it isn't
true. Most MEPs are outraged not by America's unilateralism, but by that of
France and Germany. Even in those countries, there is a sense that Chirac
and Schroder have behaved in a reprehensibly non communautaire way.

Hans-Gert Pottering, the leader of Germany's Christian Democratic MEPs, drew
heartfelt rumbles of approval when he conjured up the "dreadful prospect" of
Washington dealing bilaterally with Berlin, London and Rome rather than with
a common European front.

A Belgian Euro-fanatic told me that in breaking with the rest of Nato, his
government was undermining the whole basis of Belgium's post-war foreign
policy. "We are not a large country," he pointed out, a touch unnecessarily.
"We should think before we attract attention to ourselves like this."

We sceptics are forever inveighing against plans for a common European
defence on the grounds that they would undermine Nato. Yet the truth is that
the biggest enthusiasts for European integration are solid Nato supporters.

On one level, this is hardly surprising. Nato and the EU are, after all,
answerable to pretty much the same people. The foreign minister of Belgium
(or wherever) is not suddenly going to change all his assumptions simply
because he happens to be sitting around a Nato table rather than an EU one.

More insidiously, the staffs of the two organisations are virtually
interchangeable. Sometimes, the same people flit from one to the other -
most prominently Javier Solana, the former Nato Secretary General who is now
in charge of EU foreign policy.

Even when they are not the same individuals, they are the same kind of
people, mingling in the restaurants and embassies of Brussels, fulminating
about the "anti-European" London press, reinforcing each other's prejudices.

The Eurosceptic belief that Nato is somehow a counterweight to an EU army
simply does not fit the facts. As long ago as 1990, Nato explicitly declared
that it supported "the development of a European defence identity", an
objective reiterated at every subsequent Nato summit.

Supporters of European integration are chiefly motivated by the conviction
that nations should not be left sovereign over their military affairs. This
naturally inclines them to be sympathetic to Nato. Conversely, the few
anti-Nato politicians in Europe - French Gaullists and the far Left - tend
also to be Eurosceptic.

Euro-federalists are not opposed in principle to war in Iraq, nor even, for
the most part, to American hegemony in the region. What worries them is the
prospect of unilateral action. They are determined that Washington should be
constrained by supra-national structures - chiefly Nato and the UN - just as
their own states are.

By acting as they have, Chirac and Schroder have destroyed any pretence that
the action against Saddam Hussein will be waged in the name of the New World
Order. And that, for the Euro-federalists, is the true crime.


Daniel Hannan is a Conservative MEP for South-East England

by Richard Bernstein with Steven R. Weisman
New York Times, 17th February

BRUSSELS, Feb. 16 ‹ Resolving a bitter dispute that pitted the United States
against France and Germany over military plans on Iraq, NATO agreed tonight
to an American request to supply Turkey with equipment to defend itself in
the event of a war to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

The settlement was reached at NATO headquarters in Brussels after several
days of tough negotiations amid mounting concern that the alliance might
rupture on the eve of a possible war.

Some officials said they hoped that the NATO agreement could pave the way
for resolving the much more contentious dispute over authorizing the use of
force against Iraq at the United Nations Security Council. But for now,
European and American officials were pleased that one of the nastier
disputes in NATO's history had been patched up.

"Alliance solidarity has prevailed," said George Robertson, the NATO
secretary general.

But in a sign of possible fraying of support for the United States in the
Middle East, a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo broke up today
after failing to reach agreement calling for an emergency Arab summit
meeting to press Mr. Hussein to comply with the United Nations disarmament

The NATO decision brought widespread relief throughout the alliance.

The United States is "very pleased" by the agreement "to come to the defense
of Turkey," said R. Nicholas Burns, the American ambassador to NATO. "We
worked very hard to make sure that our core alliance responsibility of
reaching out to an ally in a time of crisis was secured."

The dispute was resolved when it was agreed to have the military staff of
the NATO Defense Planning Council, which does not include France, make plans
for Turkey's defense, specifically by sending Awacs air reconnaissance
planes, Patriot missiles and chemical and biological warfare defense teams
to Turkey.

France had objected to such a step on the grounds that the Security Council
had not yet authorized the use of force against Iraq. Shifting the decision
to the planning council rather than NATO itself was a way of circumventing
French opposition.

Germany went along with the compromise, and the last holdout, Belgium,
agreed to go along under pressure from other NATO members. Belgium dropping
its long-held demand that any NATO decision be linked to authorization of
force by the Security Council.

After the announcement tonight, France, Germany and Belgium issued a joint
statement reiterating their opposition to military action unless authorized
by the Council.


The NATO accord settled a dispute that administration officials had said was
more about symbolism than substance.

In December, Washington asked the alliance to supply Patriot missiles, Awacs
planes and chemical and biological warfare defense systems to Turkey. The
package was intended as an incentive to persuade Turkey to authorize its own
troops to take part in an Iraqi invasion and to allow American forces to use
it as a base.

The administration was also hoping that help from NATO would bolster the
Turkish government's political standing in the face of widespread popular
opposition to a war.

NATO, which was established in 1949 to counter the Soviet Union, has a
tradition of responding to many such requests by consensus, so that if any
one nation objects, the decision is held up.

France and Germany, joined by Belgium, argued that the equipment should be
supplied informally by individual alliance members but not by a formal
decision of NATO. Indeed, although Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany
has adamantly opposed the American stand on Iraq, he also allowed Patriot
missiles to be loaned to the Netherlands, which would then ship them to

>From the European point of view, the United States demand of NATO was
intended to serve as a political gesture for Turkey. Indeed, a senior
administration official said a week ago that the primary objective was to
"send a signal of resolve" to Mr. Hussein in Baghdad.

Some NATO officials said France was the main obstacle in the impasse, and
that as soon as it was decided to shift the decision to the planning
council, to which France does not belong, it took only a short time to
authorize what Turkey needed. France won praise from some officials for
agreeing to let the decision be made in this way.


by Giles Tremlett in Madrid
The Guardian, 18th February

Spain's prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, was coming to terms yesterday with
the fact that his unswerving support for George Bush on Iraq had inflicted
heavy political damage that could cost his conservative People's party its
hold on power.

Ministers admitted that the government's position was "causing significant
electoral damage" and Mr Aznar's wife, Ana Botella, was quoted as saying his
party was going through "one of the worst moments in its history".

Between 2 million and 3 million people took to the streets of Spanish cities
to protest at the weekend in what was said to the biggest overall turnout in
the world. As many as one in 15 Spaniards marched.

More significantly for Mr Aznar, opinion polls have shown that, for the
first time since securing a clear victory in elections three years ago, the
Socialists have overtaken the People's party in voting intentions.

Mr Aznar also faced embarrassment yesterday when it was revealed that in
1997 he had offered to pay Baghdad in "aid" if it gave oil contracts to the
Spanish-owned Repsol company. The government was ready to make a "donation"
if Repsol was given a concession in the Nasiriya field, despite the fact
that the UN had just issued a series of resolutions condemning Iraq's
continued blocking of inspections, according to El Mundo newspaper, which
quoted official documents.

The amount of money involved was described as "a sum to be set later". But
Repsol never managed to close the deal.

More than any other political leader in Europe, with the exception of Tony
Blair, Mr Aznar is flying in the face of popular opinion. An El Pais
newspaper poll two weeks ago showed 69% of Spaniards were against even a
UN-backed war. Nearly two-thirds of the People's party's own voters opposed

The Socialist opposition has called him to vote against war at Nato and the
UN security council.

Mr Aznar's personal conviction that Saddam Hussein still possesses chemical
or biological weapons appears to remain unshaken. This, government officials
said, was partly due to the private conversations he has had with Mr Bush
and top US officials, who see him as one of their most important diplomatic

He has also argued that for a government that has made domestic terrorism
its No 1 priority, the alleged relationship between President Saddam and
international terrorism cannot be ignored.

Few observers expect him to change his opinion. Far from backing down, Mr
Aznar explained his position in leaflets inserted into daily newspapers at
the weekend. Illustrated with pictures of the blazing twin towers, they said
only that the government considered a new UN resolution as "possible and
desirable", rather than a prerequisite to invasion.

The extent of Mr Aznar's commitment to a possible war against Iraq was
underlined yesterday with the publication of photographs showing the
construction of accommodation for 600 new military personnel at a US base in
southern Spain.

Protesters in Madrid taunted the prime minister on Saturday with chants of
"Mr Aznar, send your own sons". Yet, despite his stance as a leading
European hawk, Spain is unlikely to play a significant military role in a

by Richard Bernstein
New York Times, 18th February

BRUSSELS, Feb. 17 ‹ The leaders of the 15 members of the European Union
warned Iraq today that it must disarm "immediately and fully," but said that
Europe wanted to achieve this disarmament peacefully and that war should be
a last resort.

The European statement was issued at the end of an emergency summit meeting
and after a weekend of huge demonstrations in several cities against war in
Iraq. It appeared to represent an effort to paper over trans-Atlantic
differences through firm demands on Saddam Hussein while maintaining a
distinct European position dedicated to a peaceful outcome.

"War is not inevitable," the statement said. "Force should only be used as a
last resort. It is for the Iraqi regime to end this crisis by complying with
the demands of the Security Council."

"The Union's objective for Iraq remains full and effective disarmament," it
said, adding: "We want to achieve this peacefully. It is clear that this is
what the people of Europe want."

The European leaders did not approve a timetable for Iraqi disarmament and
rejected a British proposal that the statement include the phrase "time is
running out."

That phrase was rejected by Germany, which, together with France, has stood
at the forefront of European resistance to the Bush administration's plans
to disarm Iraq through force if necessary.

In a demonstration of the continued distance between Europe and the United
States, President Jacques Chirac of France said that there was "no need" for
a second United Nations resolution reinforcing the threat of force against
Iraq, and that France would oppose one if the United States and Britain
proposed it to the Security Council.

"Iraq must have no illusions," the Greek president, Costas Simitis, said
tonight, summarizing the European declaration.

He added that "Iraq alone will be responsible for the serious consequences"
if it continued to defy United Nations resolutions.

The phrase "serious consequences" is widely viewed as meaning military
force. It appears at the end of Security Council Resolution 1441, which last
year provided arms inspectors with a strong mandate to return to Iraq and
verify disarmament.

Differences between Europe and the United States over Iraq have become so
acute in recent weeks that officials have expressed concern over the future
of the NATO alliance. Today, European leaders seemed anxious to allay those
fears, saying they were committed to "working with all our partners,
especially the United States, for the disarmament of Iraq."

In its most forceful passage, the European statement said: "Baghdad should
have no illusions. It must disarm and cooperate immediately and fully. Iraq
has a final opportunity to resolve the crisis peacefully. The Iraqi regime
alone will be responsible for the consequences if it continues to flout the
will of the international community and does not take this last chance."

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who faces intense domestic opposition
to his support for the Bush administration's war plans, insisted before the
meeting that European leaders must show a united front with America as the
best means of compelling Mr. Hussein to disarm.


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