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[casi] 'New' Europe distances itself from war

01 April 2003

'New' Europe distances itself from war

By Stephen Castle in Brussels

With troops locked in a bloody and unpredictable
struggle in Iraq, leaders from "new" Europe are
distancing themselves from the war that the US claims
they back.

The conflict in the Gulf is unpopular with voters, and
support for Washington and London has declined as
casualties have mounted. Meanwhile, some countries
that never backed war have vented their anger at being
listed among America's 45-nation coalition of allies.

Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minster, began
his political retreat before a shot was fired. Mr
Berlusconi was a signatory of the Anglo-Spanish letter
that backed the US before the conflict begun. That did
not translate into concrete military support, however.
Last week, Mr Berlusconi was at pains to insist that
the deployment in northern Iraq of 1,000 US
paratroopers who had been stationed in Italy did not
break a pledge that Italian bases would not be used
for direct attacks on Saddam Hussein.

Denmark, which has backed the action, had to scale
back its small military deployment because of
parliamentary opposition. The Netherlands, which did
not sign the Anglo-Spanish letter but was sympathetic,
has ruled out military involvement, fearful of
destabilising negotiations to form a coalition

Countries which took a tough, pro-American line are
encountering political difficulties. Jose Maria Aznar,
the Prime Minister of Spain, which has dispatched
9,000 troops to Iraq for humanitarian work, is under
intense pressure from domestic opposition.

The publication of pictures of elite Polish troops
posing for photos with US soldiers in Iraq provoked a
backlash in Poland. Although Warsaw remains a firm
supporter of the US, surveys suggest only 20 per cent
of Poles think their troops should be involved in

The weight of public opposition has forced countries
to face in opposite directions. Ireland has made
Shannon airport available to the US, but failed to
endorse the war.

Across the ex-Communist nations of Europe, identified
by Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, as part
of the "coalition of the willing", sentiment has
proved ambivalent. One explanation is that the
Anglo-Spanish letter endorsed by three of the
applicant nations, and a subsequent declaration by a
further 10 eastern European states, did not commit
them to supporting hostilities. Some leaders went
along with the formulation on the basis that taking a
tough line might force President Saddam to back down.

In others the politics have changed: in Czech
Republic, which is included in Washington's list of
coalition nations, the Anglo-Spanish letter was signed
by the outgoing president, Vaclav Havel.

His successor Vaclav Klaus has warned that using force
to impose democracy on Iraq is a notion "from another
universe" and sets a dangerous precedent.

Several nations provided logistical support because
failing to do so would have provoked a diplomatic
schism with Washington. Yet these nuances have been
brushed aside by a Pentagon in its efforts to present
the image of broad support.

Croatia was presented as part of the "coalition of the
willing" on the basis that it opened its airspace and
bases to US civilian aircraft. But Stipe Mesic, the
President, denounced the war as "illegitimate" because
it lacked UN backing. Slovenia has also rejected the
idea that it backs the conflict.

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