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Europeans Split on War

February 19, 2003

The millions of antiwar protesters in Europe last weekend may have given a misleading impression that the Continent is united against any use of force to make Iraq give up its chemical and biological weapons. But even France, the main brakeman on the war train, conceded a split within Western Europe -- and a division between Western Europe and some of the former Soviet-dominated nations.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld needlessly taunted France and Germany last month by calling them members of "old Europe"; for him, countries to the east that support the Bush administration are the "new Europe." But French President Jacques Chirac was equally derisive this week in saying the actions of Eastern European nations that back Washington were "infantile" and "dangerous." Chirac said the pro-American countries -- Slovenia, Hungary, Bulgaria and others that hope to join the European Union -- had "missed a good opportunity to keep quiet."

Many French worry that adding 10 countries to the 15-member European Union, an expansion scheduled for next year, will diminish Paris' clout. The main reason for France's prominent position on the world stage is its status as a veto-wielding permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. It used its clout effectively Friday in arguing for more time for weapons inspectors in Iraq.

Chirac said this week in a magazine interview that Iraq "must be disarmed" and must cooperate more with inspectors than it does now. The Bush administration agrees. But other governments, as well as U.S. doubters, demand -- and deserve -- better evidence that there is an imminent threat that Baghdad will use nonconventional weapons or give them to terrorists.

The range of European opinion is evidence that the United States will not lose all of Europe, no matter how the Iraq issue is settled. But a fracturing of Europe must be avoided because its continued assistance is required in fighting terrorism as well as in helping rebuild Iraq after a war.

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