Straw in warning to Bush over expansion of conflict

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The Independent US

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and other senior European leaders urged America yesterday to be cautious in expanding its war against terror. They strongly signalled that, in the absence of "serious evidence", they would not automatically back an attack on Iraq, Iran or another country suspected of sponsoring terrorism.

Mr Straw, on a visit to Washington in which he met Vice-President Dick Cheney and other top administration officials, said he expected the US to be "careful and proportionate" in its future steps.

Addressing the World Economic Forum in New York, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, the Nato secretary general, went further, saying America had failed to produce any compelling evidence for unleashing its military might against Iraq.

Their remarks, and others in similar vein by the French Foreign Minister, Hubert Vedrine, are a sign of the international unease at the bellicose tone of Mr Bush in his State of the Union address this week. The President spoke of an "axis of evil," comprising Iraq, Iran, North Korea and leading terrorist groups – and hinted he was ready to take pre-emptive action against them.

Lord Robertson noted that when Nato threw its weight behind the US after the attacks, invoking Article Five of its founding treaty, which says an attack on one member is an attack on all, its step applied specifically to 11 September.

The Foreign Secretary said military action should only be taken after evidence had been produced and everyone said there was no alternative.

Mr Straw said Britain would continue to work with the reformist element in Tehran led by President Mohammad Khatami. But, he added, Britain was as worried as America about the unelected clerical leadership that had ultimate power in the Islamic republic.

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