World Remains Deeply Divided on Iraq

Published March 18, 2003

| Associated Press

China's new leader pressed ahead Tuesday with efforts to avoid military conflict in Iraq, telling President Bush in a phone conversation that U.N. weapons inspections must continue despite the U.S. ultimatum to Saddam Hussein.

That diplomatic offensive came as Japan praised Bush for his decisive stance and Australia offered troops for his campaign — displaying some of the deep divisions around the world over the president's demand that Saddam step down by Wednesday night or face war.

"It was a decision that had to be made," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa called off a possible last-minute peacemaking trip to Iraq on Tuesday, in what appeared to signal the end of Arab efforts to avert a war.

"Due to developments we've witnessed in the last few hours, it won't be possible for the secretary-general to visit Baghdad," said his spokesman, Hisham Youssef.

Last week, Baghdad asked a high-level Arab League peace committee to indefinitely postpone a visit. Iraq has expressed unhappiness with the level of support it has received from a deeply divided Arab world.

Chinese President Hu Jintao, meanwhile, told Bush that China hopes for "peace instead of war" and wants a political settlement through the United Nations, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. It said Hu expressed the same sentiment in phone calls with his Russian and French counterparts, and said weapons inspections in Iraq should continue.

The phone conversations followed an appeal by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at a news conference, his first since taking office this weekend, for "every effort" to avoid military conflict.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday condemned military action against Iraq, warning that war would be a mistake that could pose a grave risk to international security.

Germany and France also railed against Bush's tough stance.

"Does the threat posed by the Iraqi dictator justify a war, which is sure to kill thousands of innocent children, women and men? My answer in this case was and is: No," German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder declared.

French President Jacques Chirac said a war without the support of the United Nations would undermine future efforts at peaceful disarmament. France led an effort to give U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq more time to uncover banned weapons.

"To act without the legitimacy of the United Nations, to favor the use of force over law, is taking a heavy responsibility," Chirac said.

At the Vatican, which is staunchly against war in Iraq, spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said "whoever decides that all peaceful means available under international law are exhausted assumes a grave responsibility before God, his own conscience and history."

With nearly 300,000 U.S. and British troops in the Persian Gulf region poised to strike, Bush's most solid support has come from British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"Back away from this confrontation now and future conflicts will be infinitely worse and more devastating in their effects," Blair said during a critical debate Tuesday in the House of Commons.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard also said his government would commit 2,000 troops to a U.S.-led attack. "I believe very strongly the position the government has taken is right," Howard said.

In Tokyo, Koizumi described the ultimatum as "a very difficult decision" for Bush and reiterated his government's position that a new U.N. resolution authorizing an attack was not needed.

Japan's constitution bars its armed forces from fighting in foreign wars, but Koizumi's government reportedly was considering humanitarian missions.

In Mexico City, President Vicente Fox said that he regrets that the conflict appears headed for war, but that his nation's opposition to military action would not strain relations with the United States.

Mexico, a member of the U.N. Security Council, had struggled with its position on Iraq. Fox walked a fine line between offending voters at home who overwhelmingly oppose war and antagonizing the United States, which accounts for about 75 percent of Mexico's trade.

"We maintain our belief that the diplomatic means to achieving (the goal) have not been exhausted," Fox said.

In Indonesia, a government spokesman lamented the apparent breakdown of diplomacy. "We still believe that a solution to the crisis should be found within the U.N. Security Council," spokesman Marty Natalegawa said.

The countdown to war has raised the prospect of a backlash by Muslims in Indonesia and Malaysia, making it difficult to crack down on radical groups.

Outside main mosque in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta an Islamic activist made a dire warning.

"Don't blame the Muslims if the coming war in Iraq gives birth to thousands of new Osama bin Ladens," said Habib Rizieq Shihab of the Islamic Defenders Front.

In New Zealand, Prime Minister Helen Clark said it was "highly debatable" whether a U.S.-led strike on Iraq would be justified under international law.

India issued a veiled criticism of U.S. unilateralism, while Pakistan planned an emergency session of Parliament on Wednesday to discuss Iraq.

South Korea previously has said it supports U.S. efforts to fight the spread of weapons of mass destruction and has indicated it may send military engineers to help assist U.S. troops in the war.

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