LONDON – A world wary of war cautiously welcomed a promise by President Bush to present proof of Iraq's illegal weapons programs, but some nations feared Washington was leaning too strongly toward conflict.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair — Bush's strongest ally against Iraq — on Wednesday praised the president's State of the Union address for bluntly setting out the case for disarming Saddam Hussein.
"President Bush set out very eloquently why we need to take action to ensure that Saddam is disarmed," Blair's office said. "The case needs to be made over and over again."
In the House of Commons Wednesday, Blair echoed Bush's allegation that there was evidence to link Saddam Hussein with the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
"We do not know of evidence linking Iraq to Al Qaeda in circumstances concerning the Sept. 11 attack," Blair said. "We do know of links between Al Qaeda and Iraq. We cannot be sure of the exact extent of those links."
In his speech Tuesday, Bush said action against Iraq could not wait "until the threat is imminent."
"If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people, and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him," Bush said.
The United States and Britain have warned that Iraq is running out of time to rid itself of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs as demanded by the United Nations.
Other U.N. Security Council members — most importantly Russia, China and France, who hold the same veto power as Washington and London — say U.N. inspectors should be given more time to search for banned weapons.
European countries, largely skittish of an attack on Iraq, seemed encouraged by Bush's announcement that Secretary of State Colin Powell would go before the Security Council next week to present the U.S. case against Iraq.
Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson said the speech showed the president was serious about having "the international community behind him."
In Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko reiterated Russia's position that diplomatic measures were needed to resolve the crisis.
Speaking a day after President Vladimir Putin said Russia might toughen its stance on Iraq if Baghdad hampered weapons inspectors, Yakovenko said that "as before, we see no grounds for any use of military force."
German President Johannes Rau cautioned Washington against taking unilateral action against Saddam, arguing that the fight against terrorism and dictatorship "is not a matter for one state."
The European Union is split on Iraq, with Belgium, Sweden and Finland backing France and Germany's anti-war stance, while Spain, Italy, Portugal and others lean toward the pro-American camp.
Italy said Wednesday it had given its approval for U.S. airplanes to use Italian bases for refueling and other "technical" purposes in a possible war against Iraq.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana welcomed Bush's announcement that the United States would present evidence on Feb. 5 showing Iraq maintains a secret weapons program in violation of U.N. resolutions.
"The EU continues to believe the place where this debate should be is in the [Security] Council," Solana said. "We have to put in place all the elements in order to avoid the catastrophe of war."
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin welcomed the promise to share information, but stressed that it remained up to the U.N. to decide on the next step.
"France has taken a clear position since the beginning and the majority of the world community not only understands this position but shares it," he said in an interview with RTL radio.
While many saw Bush's speech as a sign that war is near, Scandinavian nations clung to hope of a peaceful solution.
"He still opens up for Saddam Hussein to come to his senses and hand over his weapons of mass destruction," "said Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen said he did not see the address as a declaration of war.
"The message in the address is that it puts tremendous pressure in Saddam Hussein, but it is important to note that Bush is still following the U.N. route," he said.
In Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda called Bush's speech "a forceful, strong message" and said disarming Iraq was a concern of the whole world.
But around the world, as in the United States, popular reaction to the speech was mixed.
"I thought it was a fantastic speech," said 21-year-old Sydney office worker David Meyer. "He made it obvious — the evil of Saddam Hussein and the danger he poses to the rest of the world."
Australia already has troops heading to the Persian Gulf to prepare for possible military strikes on Baghdad — the only U.S. ally besides Britain to do so.
Others were more skeptical of U.S. interests.
"What Bush said was not about justice for all of the world but for himself and for those who share the same interests," said 35-year-old Bambang Suryani, who runs a telecommunications kiosk in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. "Justice is only a word in his mouth."