NATO REBELS DEFY US MARCH TO WAR
Feb 11 2003
By Paul Gilfeather And Lorraine Davidson
NATO was on the brink of collapse last night after France and Germany blocked preparations for war with Iraq.
The revolt by the key nations, scorned as "old Europe" by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, plunged the Wester alliance into its worst crisis - and dealt a humiliating blow to President George Bush's plans to invade Baghdad.
Russia put the boot into George Bush as Nato was plunged into deep crisis over Iraq.
Emerging from talks in Paris with French President Jacques Chirac, President Vladimir Putin declared: "We are against the war."
With France and Germany blocking plans to defend Turkey against Saddam Hussein, the Western alliance was grappling with its worst crisis.
Chirac declared: "Nothing today justifies a war. The use of force is only a last resort."
Putin, who lined up with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin at the weekend, added: "The majority - I stress the majority - of the world community believe the Iraq problem can be solved peacefully."
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld condemned the Franco-German action as "breathtaking" and "shameful" while Nato Secretary General Lord Robertson warned of "serious implications" for the alliance.
Tony Blair, who once boasted that he would bridge the gap between Europe and America, was left looking completely isolated. Washington has been pressing for weeks for Patriot missiles, spy planes and anti-chemical and biological teams to be sent to protect Turkey, the only Nato member state bordering Iraq.
In a day of drama France, Germany and Belgium blocked the plan. The response to the revolt was immediate and fierce.
Abandoning diplomatic language, Mr Rumsfeld accused the three nations of wrecking the North Atlantic council's credibility.
But they stood firm, insisting that the plan would suggest war with Iraq was about to begin.
Downing Street tried to play down the rift, insisting that discussions over providing assistance to the Turks were continuing.
Last night, alliance members were forced to tell Turkey - the proposed launch-pad for any US invasion - that they could not come to its aid until every one of the 19 states agrees.
Yesterday's showdown followed a Franco-German attempt to hold back the war drive of Britain and America and give UN weapons inspectors more time to do their jobs in Iraq.
Along with Belgium, they argued that any military preparations in Turkey could suggest that diplomatic efforts had been abandoned.
A fuming Mr Rumsfeld, speaking in Munich, said those responsible would be judged by their own people and other members of the alliance.
He later said the row would "reverberate" and insisted that Turkey would be protected "outside of Nato if necessary".
Turkey fears reprisals if the US starts to bomb Baghdad.
As the crisis deepened yesterday, the Turks invoked Article Four of the Nato treaty for the first time in the alliance's 54-year history.
It states that member states will join forces when security is threatened.
Greece, which holds the EU presidency, plans to stage an emergency war summit in Brussels next week in an attempt to defuse the row. Number 10 reluctantly conceded last night that Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will attend the two-day event on Monday.
Downing Street denied that the action of France and Germany amounted to a veto.
Mr Blair's official spokesman said: "A veto is only a veto if it results in something never happening."
In a further blow to President Bush's war plans, UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix announced that Iraq WAS co-operating with his mission.
And Iraq announced that it would finally allow flights by the U2 spy planes - a key demand of the inspectors.
Blix delivers his next report to the UN Security Council in New York on Friday.
At the same time, France and Germany are expected to spell out their plan for more weapons inspectors, backed by a UN peacekeeping force, to be sent to Iraq.
The White House said the U2 flights would change nothing.
And in a speech today, Jack Straw will warn that even a "thousandfold" increase in the number of inspectors would not guarantee Iraqi disarmament.