Iraq split redraws the map of Europe

Leaders' letter in support of war exposes increasingly deep continental rift

Tony Blair headed for a council of war with George Bush yesterday with the backing of seven European countries but with EU policy towards Iraq disintegrating into bitterness and division.

The Prime Minister is confident that President Bush will agree to delay a war against Iraq for more than a month during their crucial talks over the timescale for military action at the President's Camp David retreat today. But Mr Blair's preparations were marred by a rift over an Anglo-Spanish declaration of support for the US over Iraq, endorsed by three other EU countries and three east European nations that will join next year.

The dispute advertised the continental divide described by Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, as pitting "old Europe" against the new.

For months, European diplomats have sought to paper over their differences and, as recently as Monday, EU foreign ministers signed up to a communiqué that concentrated on the limited areas of agreement over Iraq.

But yesterday's "gang of eight" declaration shattered any pretence of consensus. Four EU countries on the United Nations Security Council – France, Germany, the UK and Spain – are in two camps.

The letter was signed by Britain, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Denmark, plus Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which will join the EU next year. In a significant departure, the former eastern bloc countries were brought in to support the declaration, underlining the Atlanticist credentials of many of the nations that will join the EU next year.

Costas Simitis, the Prime Minister of Greece, which holds the EU's rotating presidency but was left out of the loop, declared that the letter signed by eight nations "does not contribute to a common approach". Greek officials were furious. "Prime Minister Simitis had talks with Tony Blair and [Jose Maria] Aznar [the Spanish premier] in the last few days and nobody informed him," said one official. Mr Simitis heard about the Anglo-Spanish initiative only yesterday when he held talks with one of the signatories, Peter Medgyessy, Hungary's premier.

The declaration by the eight countries was seen as a direct challenge to France and Germany which, having revived their traditional alliance, have gone public with their doubts on American policy.

One British minister said: "France and Germany went very public over Iraq, so we shouldn't be afraid of doing the same. They may not like what we have done, but you can't have one rule for some and another rule for the rest."

After talks with Mr Aznar in Madrid, Mr Blair admitted there were divergences between Europe and America on such issues as climate change and trade. But he stressed that "what unites the EU and America infinitely outweighs what divides them. When we stand together the world is a safer and more peaceful place."

Mr Blair expressed confidence that the European Union doubters would rally behind military action. He said the UN would agree a second resolution authorising action on the basis that President Saddam Hussein had failed to cooperate with the inspectors.

Today Mr Blair will urge President Bush to stick with the UN route. One British source said: "We have to strike a delicate balance between giving the UN weapons inspectors more time, building an international coalition and not being strung along by Saddam Hussein."

Downing Street said the idea of the joint statement was suggested last Friday by Mr Aznar although it was drafted by both Britain and Spain.

Mr Aznar told journalists in Madrid yesterday: "I don't remember who was the father of the idea of writing the article, but it's not a crime to have written the article."

In private, a senior EU official was overheard describing the idea of a common EU foreign policy on Iraq as a "complete joke". The declaration was, according to another EU official, a reaction to the "disgusting self-congratulation" of the Élysée celebrations, which marked the 40th anniversary of a Franco-German friendship treaty. One diplomat added: "Apparently it has infuriated the French-- all in all a very good outcome."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all