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
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own