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Mixed Reaction in Europe to US Presentation on Iraq - 2003-02-06

Europe's reaction to Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation of the case against Iraq at the United Nations has been mixed. European newspapers appear unconvinced that Mr. Powell's revelations are a cause for war, but many conclude that military action is not far off.

Mr. Powell's presentation was described as persuasive and forceful by the European Union, which has been somewhat critical of U.S. policy toward Iraq.

Speaking in Belgrade, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana described Mr. Powell's report as "very solid" and said it is clear Iraq is not cooperating with U.N. weapons inspectors. But the European Union wants a U.N. Security Council resolution before it gives its full support to military action against Iraq.

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, whose country holds the EU rotating presidency, says time is running out for Iraq, although he believes there is still a chance for peace. He says Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein must cooperate fully with U.N. weapons inspectors or face the consequences. "I think there is a very clear message," he said. "We want a diplomatic solution. We can get it if there is full compliance. Full compliance means that [Saddam Hussein] has to convince us. But otherwise there will be dire consequences."

Mr. Papandreou says the European Union is waiting to hear what chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei, who are again on their way to Baghdad, report back to the Security Council next week.

The German government, which is against any war in Iraq, also moved ever so slightly after Mr. Powell's report. Government spokesman Bela Anda said in Berlin his country is concerned at indications that Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction. But he reaffirmed Germany's position that all political means to resolve the crisis should be exhausted before war should be considered, and that the inspections should continue.

With Britain backing the U.S. position, the key European country that must still be convinced is France, which has a veto on the Security Council. Although France has emphasized the need for the weapons inspectors to continue their work in Iraq, many French analysts say that, in the end, their country will come around to backing military action, provided such a move has the support of the Security Council.

Commentator Patrice De Beer, who writes in Le Monde France's most influential newspaper, says the French government is analyzing Mr. Powell's evidence against Iraq, but will not take a definite stand on the issue until Mr. Blix returns to New York and reports to the Security Council.

"For the moment, it would be very difficult for the French government, for the French president, without the backing of Hans Blix, who, when he spoke last time, said that the evidence was not enough to wage war," he said. "It will be difficult for Jacques Chirac to go against public opinion that is over 80 percent against the war without U.N. backing."

Two French newspapers take different positions on Mr. Powell's presentation. The left-wing Liberation says it only convinced those who were already convinced. The conservative Le Figaro says Europe can do little about what America sees as its need to reaffirm its strength after the September 11 terrorist attacks by attacking Iraq.

In Britain, the Financial Times says many Security Council members know that Iraq retains an armory of rogue weapons, but are skeptical about whether war is the best way of dealing with it. The Independent says Mr. Powell's show was impressive, but he failed to make the case for war.

In strongly anti-war Germany, the conservative daily Die Welt warned that the country might be isolated if the international tide turns toward the U.S. position. And in Belgium, the Standard concludes that hoping war will not happen is now an out-of-date attitude.