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US Coalition-Building Hits a Rut


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U.S. coalition-building hits a rut

NATO allies deadlocked; Russia, China weigh in against rush to Iraq war


BRUSSELS, Belgium, Feb. 11 — Washington’s effort to build a coalition for war against Iraq hit more resistance Tuesday from NATO and beyond, with Russia and China adding their voices to calls for bolstered U.N. arms inspections to resolve the crisis peacefully.

A SECOND DAY of heated negotiations failed to end one of the worst crises in NATO’s 53-year history: a split triggered when France, Germany and Belgium blocked U.S. plans to begin planning to defend Turkey in a possible new Persian Gulf war.

After behind-the-scene talks throughout the day, ambassadors from the 19 NATO countries met for only 20 minutes Tuesday evening. Talks were to resume discussions Wednesday morning.

“There are a number of options that have been discussed,†NATO spokesman Yves Brodeur told reporters without elaborating. “Consultations between capitals†will continue through the night “to try and find common ground.â€


The division in the alliance threatens to undermine the Bush administration’s attempts to muster support on the U.N. Security Council for military action against Iraq. Russia and China, two permanent council members with the power to veto a resolution endorsing military action, strongly signaled that they would join a third, France, in opposing such action.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was in Paris for talks with French President Jacques Chirac, warned that U.S. military action without U.N. consent would be a “grave error.†He indicated that Russia would support France if it voted to veto any “unreasonable use of force.â€

“This is not designed to create a bloc or an axis,†Putin said, according to a translation provided by TF1 television. “We are trying to find a peaceful solution to a grave international crisis, and, I repeat, we will be heard.â€

Chinese President Jiang Zemin, meanwhile, told Chirac in a telephone call that China also supported his efforts to find a peaceful solution.

“The inspection in Iraq is effective and should be continued and strengthened,†China’s official Xinhua news agency paraphrased Jiang as saying Tuesday. “Warfare is good for no one, and it is our responsibility to take various measures to avoid war.â€

The White House insisted that the United States could still seek a new resolution at the United Nations, even though France, Russia and Germany sought more time Monday for beefed-up U.N. inspections in a proposal opposed by Washington.

“Keep your powder dry before you make predictions,†spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters. “The president is going to continue to talk to leaders around the world, and he believes that the call will be answered.â€


The NATO crisis, bubbling for almost a month, came to a head Monday when France, Germany and Belgium rebuffed Turkey’s direct appeal for help under NATO’s mutual defense treaty.

The U.S.-backed plan would involve preparations to send Turkey AWACS early warning planes, Patriot anti-missile batteries and units trained to counter chemical and biological weapons.

The United States says those measures are needed to protect Turkey from an Iraqi missile strike, as the U.S. prepares to move troops into Turkey for a possible northern front against its neighbor Iraq.

Opponents argue such military planning would set NATO on a path to war and undermine efforts for a peaceful solution. Playing down the threat to Turkey, they want to delay a decision at least until Friday’s report to the Security Council from U.N. weapons inspectors on any Iraqi progress.

Some at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s headquarters call the crisis the worst since the dispute over the deployment in Europe of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in the early 1980s.


However, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Rockwell Schnabel, sought to downplay the scale of the rift in an interview with Reuters.

“I wouldn’t call it a transatlantic crisis. I would think that we have some differences of opinion that are more pronounced because of the war effort and in the end hopefully we will get those resolved,†Schnabel said.

“There are some hiccups at the moment in the family. We need to work on them.â€

But Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul acknowledged the dispute went beyond the question of helping his country to deeper divisions within NATO.

“There is no doubt that Turkey is not the target here,†Gul said in Ankara. “A diplomatic battle is going on.â€

Without NATO agreement, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said Washington would act on its own to defend Turkey. Already, the Netherlands is preparing to send Patriot missile units to Turkey without waiting for NATO.

In the wider context, NATO would not play a direct role in any U.S.-led offensive war against Iraq. Instead, as in 1991, Washington will rely on allies such as Britain and Australia. Germany has ruled out any participation in a war, but France, which participated in 1991, has yet follow suit.

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