EU in disarray over gang of eight's pro-Bush letter
Britain has admitted that the statement, which it spearheaded, along with Spain, without consulting France and Germany, had not been sent to all 15 members of the EU because "they are in slightly different places" on the looming war with Baghdad.
The letter, which called for Europe to stand united behind the US, was initiated by Spain's Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, and promoted by the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. It prompted angry responses from across Europe, including the EU capital, Brussels.
"This is absolutely unnecessary," one EU diplomat said. "It is divisive. [Blair and Aznar], who have been tipped as future presidents of Europe, should be more in touch with the mainstream of public opinion and other governments."
Officials in Brussels were horrified at the disarray in EU ranks just days
after foreign ministers agreed on a policy demanding that Iraq disarm, backing
the United Nations route and supporting inspections.
The letter, which was published on Thursday, was also signed by Denmark, Italy and Portugal as well as three aspiring members of the EU: the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. Mr Aznar said it was consistent with the EU's line on Iraq.
He was responding to criticism from Greece, holder of the EU presidency, which attacked the "gang of eight" for undermining unity. The Greek Prime Minister, Costas Simitis, said: "The way in which the initiative was expressed does not contribute to a common approach."
A spokesman for the Dutch Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, said he had turned down an offer to sign the statement. "What we are aiming for is one European voice and we are trying to achieve that by bridging gaps, and that is why the Prime Minister did not sign," he said.
The letter was seen as direct retaliation for the anti-war positions of France and Germany, but leaders of those countries sought to paper over divisions.
A spokesman for German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, said the letter "stressed points" important to Berlin. The French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, called it a "contribution to the debate".
But a spokesman for the French President, Jacques Chirac, said most UN Security Council members wanted to see UN weapons inspectors in Iraq given more time.
France has indicated it would use its veto on the UN Security Council to block any US resolution for war against Iraq.
The Guardian, agencies
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