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As US Pursues a Verbal War Against Iraq, World Voices Concern

1 September 2002

As the Bush administration ratchets up its verbal war against Iraq, the rest of the world is talking back in statements that contain more skepticism and disapproval than support and that are often determined by domestic politics, economic problems, distrust of the United States and concerns about international law.

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain has probably come closest in aligning his government with the United States on Iraq and today he affirmed earlier statements calling for action against Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, telling reporters on a flight to Africa, "The world cannot stand by and allow Iraq to be in flagrant breach of all the United Nations resolutions on developing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons."

But while doing nothing about Iraq's breach of the United Nations resolutions is "not an option," he said, what to do remains an "open question."

Mr. Blair hinted that international approval would be necessary for any military action, saying of the American-led strikes in Kosovo and Afghanistan, "We acted in a calm and sensible and measured way with the broadest international support."

The Bush administration's war talk terrifies those who want to avoid more bloodshed and instability in the Middle East, annoys those who want to focus on more basic concerns such as ample food and clean water, pleases those who want to see a change of government in Iraq and mystifies those who believe that 11 years of deterrence has worked.

In Australia, the prospect of war against Iraq has enraged wheat farmers, who worry that Mr. Hussein may make good on his threat to slash grain imports if the Australian government keeps up its tough talk.

In Israel, the Health Ministry is preparing to vaccinate 15,000 police officers, firefighters and disaster relief workers against smallpox, fearing that Iraq could use the deadly virus as a biological weapon.

In Russia, Yuri Shafranik, a former fuel and energy minister turned oil and gas lobbyist, told a newspaper that a war against Iraq would leave Russian investors with only one option: "When the United State strikes, shoot yourself."

American war planning has complicated Germany's close election campaign, antagonized Arab allies like President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt who feel the Palestinian crisis must be solved first and given political cartoonists a flood of fresh material. A cartoon in a recent issue of the French weekly satirical paper Le Canard Enchâiné shows President Bush as a pistol-packing cowboy, articulating a magic formula for prosperity. "It's simple," Mr. Bush says. "If the Dow Jones doesn't go up, I'll annihilate Iraq."

Public opinion polls underscore the range of opinion. One cited in the Paris weekly Le Journal du Dimanche reported that 76 percent of the French against a war, and only 18 percent in favor. By contrast, a poll in the Israeli newspaper Maariv found 57 percent of Israelis favoring American military action.

In Britain, polls show a war against Iraq would be unpopular, especially among activists in Mr. Blair's own left-leaning Labor Party.

From the perspective of some countries, Sept. 11 disastrously reordered Washington's priorities, and the prospect of war against the country with the world's second-largest oil reserves is even more disheartening.

Before Sept. 11, Mexico was at the top of the American foreign policy agenda. No more. Many of President Vicente Fox's hopes for a transformed relationship with the United States have been unfulfilled. Mexico is trying to help the United States secure its southern border and chase money-laundering leads but feels it has received little in return. So it is not surprising that Mr. Fox has offered no support for an attack on Iraq. "We can't get involved in any way in any war," he said this week.

In Russia, which has signed a $40 billion cooperation deal with Iraq, many pundits predict calamity if war comes, while others see silver linings. Sergei Karaganov, a political analyst, said in a recent interview that an American-led attack on Iraq "may lead to the disintegration of the international antiterrorist coalition and to instability in the region." But the newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta expressed hope that a war might benefit Russia, saying, "Any rise in oil prices due to such an operation will only help the Russian budget."

In Iran, which was invaded by Iraq in 1980, hard-liners and reformists alike have objected to any attack on their neighbor. Iran has had enough of war the Iran-Iraq conflict lasted eight years and cost hundreds of thousands of lives. "We have suffered more than anyone else from Iraq," said President Mohammad Khatami recently. "But we believe intervention in other countries and imposition of the wishes on a country by a bully is much more dangerous than even the presence of the so-called misfit governments."

As for Kuwait, another victim of Mr. Hussein's aggression, while it formally opposes an attack against Iraq, it would be delighted if Mr. Hussein somehow disappeared from the political landscape. But it does not want to act alone.

"Kuwait will be always working under an Arab and international umbrella and will be always dealing seriously with the current threat against Iraq which can be avoided if Baghdad adheres to the international resolutions," Kuwait's information minister, Sheik Ahmad Fahd al-Sabah, said this month.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan express a more forthright version of Arab solidarity. "We have always opposed any attack against an Arab or Muslim country," said the Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, during a recent trip to Iran. "And that also means Iraq."

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan warned on Thursday that an American attack on Iraq would "alienate the Muslim world."

President Jacques Chirac of France has taken what might be called the internationalist-legalistic approach to war against Mr. Hussein, arguing that any use of force must be approved by the United Nations Security Council.

There is a precedent. Before the first Bush administration went to war against Mr. Hussein in 1991, Secretary of State James A. Baker III went on a global tour to lobby Security Council members to vote for a resolution authorizing the use of force. Yemen and Cuba voted against it; China abstained.

This time around, while China has sought to be seen as a partner in the campaign against terror, it opposes an attack on Iraq. This week Beijing received the Iraqi foreign minister, using the occasion to repeat its objection to military action.

The Chinese have urged Iraq to comply with Security Council resolutions, but Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan pointedly said, "The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Iraq should also be respected."

Then there is the save-our-oil approach, which often emerges in Japan. The Yomiuri Shimbun, a newspaper that usually supports American policies, said, "Helping strikes on Iraq would make oil-producing Arab nations hostile to us and cause an energy problem for Japan."

That is followed by the make-me-an-offer approach, perhaps best seen in Turkey, which shares a border with Iraq. One fear is that the turmoil resulting from an American invasion could spill over into Turkey's troubled southeast, where the Kurdish separatist struggle has claimed 30,000 lives since 1984.

"We have used every opportunity to tell our friends in the U.S. administration we are opposed to military action against Iraq," Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said this week.

That said, Turkey may be open to negotiation. It has suggested that it would consider changing its position in exchange for the easing of more than $4 billion owed to the United States for military purchases.

Possibly the most unexpected reason not to go to war against the authoritarian government of Mr. Hussein was offered by the authoritarian government of Vietnam. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said recently that Vietnam "protests any military acts aimed at overthrowing the administration of President Saddam Hussein."

He explained, "The administration of Iraq was elected by the Iraqi people."

Elaine Sciolino, Paris
Published in the New York Times © 2002 The New York Times Company

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