Iraq Bombings: World Reaction: Two UN giants united in anger

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The Independent Online
THE BRITISH and American attack on Iraq has drawn a far more divided reaction than November's strikes-that-almost-were, splitting the United Nations Security Council, dismaying several European allies, and alienating much of the Arab world.

Russia and China, both permanent members of the Security Council, led calls for the raids to stop immediately.

Russia had again been left fuming and impotent on the margin of an international crisis. The Duma passed a resolution damning the raids as "international terrorism", while President Boris Yeltsin spoke of a "crude violation" of the UN Charter that could portend "the most dramatic consequences" for the Gulf region.

China joined in the criticism. "We are deeply shocked," said the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sun Yuxi. "The United States has not received permission from the UN Security Council and took unilateral action in using force, violating the UN charter and international principles."

In Hanoi, the Chinese Vice-President, Hu Jintao, said: "The US has used military force against a sovereign country and it will be condemned by the international community. We strongly demand the United States immediately stop such military action."

In Brussels, where Nato defence ministers were holding their end-of- year conference (minus their US and British colleagues, detained at home on urgent business), fears were openly expressed over the fate of a special meeting tomorrow designed to help chart a new relationship between the former rivals. The Russian Defence Minister, Igor Sergeyev, has pulled out of the talks in protest; diplomats now fear the meeting may be cancelled.

But the repercussions could extend further. In Moscow reports were circulating that the Duma might refuse to ratify the Start-2 strategic arms reduction treaty, which, after years of stalling, it had seemed to be on the point of endorsing.

This would not only mean a freeze on a deal to limit each side's warheads to 3,000, it would also jeopardise the prospects for Start-3, which would make far deeper cuts in the arsenals of the former Cold War adversaries.

In Europe, the mood was sombre. Germany's social democrat Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, was supportive, blaming President Saddam Hussein's "obstinate refusal" to co-operate with UN weapons inspectors. But his Green coalition partners were unhappy about the strikes, while Italy urged that they be halted.

France dissociated itself from the US and British offensive, "deploring the escalation" which had led to it. The formula chosen by Paris implicitly blamed Washington and London as much as President Saddam, and drew an acid response from Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State: "It would be very nice if those who did not support our approach had an approach of their own which worked."

Other capitals mostly paid lip service to the Anglo-American cause, but even at the Nato session the unease was palpable in some delegations. The reaction of the Spanish Defence Minister, Eduardo Serra, was typical. Spain, he said, "deeply deplores that force should have been necessary. But, as always, the Spanish government shows its solidarity with its allies. That is the official position."

Unofficially, events have confirmed in many European eyes how Britain, for all its recent urging of a European Union defence identity, will instinctively side with the US when push comes to shove.

Adding to the unease is awareness of how the onslaught against Iraq, without specific prior consultation with the UN or Nato, will complicate the debate about possible transformation of the alliance into a kind of global policeman.

Most striking of all, perhaps, was reaction in the Arab world. A month ago, a stark warning from Gulf and other Arab countries that President Saddam had only himself to blame for his predicament was instrumental in securing his eleventh-hour climbdown. This time, scarcely a shred of backing for the US was to be seen, even after President Bill Clinton's rapturous reception in Gaza few days ago.

The Arab League condemned the attacks as "an act of aggression," while the Gulf states were silent and Syria denounced Washington and London for double standards.

Why, Damascus radio wondered, did the two capitals do nothing against Israel and its stock of weapons of mass destruction?