World leaders have stiffened their opposition to any US unilateral attack on Iraq, prompting Washington to pledge that it will consult its global allies before launching any military strike.
Across the globe, from Asia to Europe, Washington's friends and foes alike have raised a chorus of concern that US President George W. Bush will seek to go it alone against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein accused of developing weapons of mass destruction.
The issue of Iraq was set to overshadow Friday's start of two days of informal talks by EU foreign ministers in Denmark with many EU governments having already echoed the same reservations about any US action as Arab and Asian leaders.
French President Jacques Chirac added his voice to the growing chorus late Thursday. Although he did not rule out the possibility of using force against Saddam, accused of developing weapons of mass destruction, he said it should be a joint decision by the United Nations.
"If Baghdad insists on refusing to allow the unconditional return of inspectors, it would be up to the Security Council alone to decide what measures to take," he told French ambassadors.
Baghdad crowed with delight that Chirac had added his weight to mounting European
anxiety, after Britain also signaled a shift in its position by saying it could
consider setting Iraq a deadline to resume UN arms inspections.
"US decision-makers can no longer count on Europe in the 21st century. Having
realized it was tricked by America in attacks in different parts of the world,
(Europe) is starting to distance itself from US visions and goals," said Ath-Thawra,
mouthpiece of the ruling Baath party in Baghdad.
"The US administration is hammering the last nail in its coffin, and it seems
that this administration now realizes that even its allies have deserted it and
that it could not finance its war," added the official Al-Iraq.
The vocal concern even among Washington's traditional allies prompted the Bush administration to pledge to hold consultations before taking any military decisions.
"I am confident that he (Bush) will, as he said he would, consult widely with our Congress, with our friends and allies around the world before deciding on a course of action," Vice President Dick Cheney said Thursday.
But the vice president -- widely reported to be a hawk on Iraq -- again underscored the threat posed by Saddam's regime.
With weapons of mass destruction, and 10 percent of the world's oil reserves, Saddam could "be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East ... and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail," Cheney said.
Bush made the same point at a political fundraiser in Oklahoma, saying he was determined to move against Iraq, but would not move hastily.
"We must not allow the world's worst leaders to develop and harbor the world's worst weapons," he said. "I've got a lot of tools at my disposal and I'm a patient man."
Washington is also seeking to galvanize the fractured Iraqi opposition to help
prepare it for a post-Saddam government.
Next week Washington will convene a meeting in London of Iraqi opposition scholars and intellectuals to discuss "democratic principles", the State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday.
The meeting, on September 4 and 5, is one in a series of seminars Washington
is sponsoring to further its goal of regime change.
Copyright 2002 AFP