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European Leaders Publish Letter Backing US Effort to Disarm Iraq

Eight European leaders have issued a declaration giving strong backing to President Bush's efforts for disarmament in Iraq. The letter is also being viewed as a snub to France and Germany, which are critical of U.S. policy on Iraq.

The eight leaders made the Iraq declaration in an open letter published in major European and U.S. newspapers Thursday.

The letter appeals for international unity in the U.S.-led campaign to disarm Iraq, and stresses the common values of democracy and freedom, shared by the United States and Europe. It does not mention military action against Iraq.

The letter was signed by the leaders of Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair says France and Germany were not asked to sign the letter. France and Germany have been critical of the tough U.S. policy toward Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and have appealed for more time for U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been dismissive of the Franco-German position, saying it represents what he calls "old Europe."

The foreign affairs spokesman of Spain's ruling Peoples' Party, Gustavo de Arístegui, told British radio, his country hopes the declaration can help bridge trans-Atlantic misunderstandings.

"We have been seeing, with a great deal of worry, how some analysts in the United States think that Europe and the United States are inevitably drifting apart," he said. " And, we do think that we have common interests, and that the 11th of September [2001] has made the trans-Atlantic agenda even more important. Although, maybe some European analysts and politicians have not been aware of that as of now."

The letter was published as British Prime Minister Blair continues an intensive round of Iraq-related diplomacy on both sides of the Atlantic.

He met Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in London Wednesday night. Mr. Blair was stopping in Madrid Thursday for talks with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar before heading to the United States. Mr. Blair will discuss Iraq with President Bush at the Camp David retreat on Friday, and he is to meet French President Jacques Chirac next Tuesday.