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European Leaders React to President Bush's Iraq Speech - 2002-10-08

While the Iraqi government calls President Bush's latest speech on Iraq an attempt to justify an attack against it, European and the Middle Eastern officials think the address leaves hope military action can be avoided. They are seizing on Mr. Bush's statement that war against Iraq is not inevitable. They are hoping that means diplomacy might yet end the crisis over Iraq's weapons program.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri says Mr. Bush's speech contained misleading information with which the U.S. president hopes to justify what Mr. Sabri called an illegitimate attack on Iraq.

In his internationally televised speech from the U.S. city of Cincinnati, Mr. Bush asserted that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year and may be planning to attack the United States with chemical and biological weapons.

But he also said a military operation against Iraq is neither imminent nor unavoidable.

And it is that remark that officials in both Europe and the Middle East are emphasizing, at least for public consumption, despite growing fears in both regions that a U.S. attack against Iraq is inevitable.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher says he still believes there is a chance for diplomatic moves to try to avert the danger of war.

His Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Maher, is also emphasizing what Mr. Bush said about the chances for avoiding war.

Mr. Bush said that, to avoid war, Iraq must, among other things, destroy its weapons of mass destruction.

His staunchest ally in Europe, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, echoes that demand. "I think we share the same analysis, basically, which is that we want the United Nations to make its determination very clear to the Iraqi regime and that the Iraqi regime must recognize that the will of the United Nations has to be obeyed and there has to be disarmament of the weapons of mass destruction, the chemical, biological and potentially nuclear weapons," Mr. Blair said.

The United States and Britain have been pushing for a new U.N. Security Council resolution that would allow military action if Iraq does not cooperate with U.N. weapons inspections.

France, however, is resisting such a resolution. But a top ally of French President Jacques Chirac Tuesday said he is reassured by Mr. Bush's pledge to build an international coalition against Iraq. Former Prime Minister Alain Juppe said Mr. Bush's statement that military action is neither imminent nor inevitable shows that Washington is taking the French view into account.

In Germany, which has strongly opposed any U.S. attack on Iraq, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer did not directly refer to Mr. Bush's speech. But he said the Security Council must adopt a united approach on Iraq aimed at getting the weapons inspections underway. He also said Iraq must allow the inspectors to carry out their work unfettered and unconditionally.