Counting the hours
President Mubarak went to Berlin and Paris in an 11th hour bid to avert a disastrous US-led war against Iraq. Nevine Khalil reports from Berlin
Although Egypt continues to speak to receptive countries in the West about means to avert a potentially devastating war in the region, the US's determination go ahead with its military attack on Iraq may be unstoppable. President Hosni Mubarak is in Paris today for talks with French President Jacques Chirac, which follow closely on the heels of his meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder yesterday. Mubarak had also spoken by telephone with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Monday before he embarked on his two-stop European trip.
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A South Korean anti-war protester, wearing a President George W Bush mask, leads a march in Seoul in opposition to the looming war against Iraq
In contrast with London, there aren't many differences in opinion between Cairo, Paris and Berlin on the Iraqi crisis. All three agree that the standoff between the US and Iraq should be resolved peacefully; that Iraq must disarm; that UN weapons inspection teams must be given more time to continue their search for Iraq's alleged stockpile of weapons of mass destruction; that Saddam Hussein's regime must fully comply with UN resolutions and be as cooperative as possible with the UN inspectors.
During a working lunch with Schroeder, Mubarak's agenda focussed on Iraq although the Palestinian issue was also discussed, as was the scheduled inauguration of the German University in Egypt on 4 October this year. "We agreed that it is very important to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1441 and that a peaceful solution is pursued," Schroeder told a joint news conference. "Two goals must be achieved. First, that Iraq must cooperate better than it has done in the past; and second, that more time is granted to UN inspectors to do their work fully."
Mubarak reiterated that war would have "disastrous" effects on the region, the world and the fight to combat terrorism, but he also highlighted how the Palestinian issue poses a greater threat to regional and world peace. "Not resolving the Palestinian cause will be far more dangerous," warned Mubarak. "The Middle East problem is very complicated and if we can't find a solution to it, then its repercussions will be very dangerous for the region and for the entire world," added Mubarak. US President George W Bush had "promised" Mubarak that "intense work on the Palestinian-Israeli track will commence once the crisis over Iraq is resolved one way or another," Mubarak told reporters.
Mubarak vowed that consultations across the globe will continue through the 11th hour. "We will meet and discuss what can be done to avoid the severe repercussions of a war," Mubarak noted, adding that the US should continue working under the umbrella of the UN. Schroeder agreed, saying, "I, too, am against any unilateral action" by the US.
But all this talk may not be sufficient to put an end to Washington's determination to attack Iraq, remove Saddam from power, set up a more US-friendly regime and tighten its grip on Iraqi oil. According to a highly-placed Egyptian source, a victory of sorts must be declared before the US military machine backs down. "If the massive build-up of US troops in the region is scaled down, then some form of victory must be achieved to save face," the source said. "This does not necessarily mean a military invasion, but that Baghdad gives in to US demands one way or another."
That appears to be the logic behind the European efforts led by Germany and France. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said on Tuesday that despite efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution to the crisis, the onus remains on Baghdad to avert a war. "The Iraqi government must fully comply and disarm. We have to maintain the pressure on Iraq and it must cooperate effectively." Fischer also said the weapons inspectors need to be given more time. "The inspection teams are doing an excellent job and they should be given the time they need [to continue their work]." According to Fischer, a second resolution is unnecessary because "we have 1441, and we want to enforce it immediately and without delay to avoid the disaster heading towards the region."
Fischer was speaking after meeting with Mubarak just following the Egyptian president's arrival in Berlin, where he discussed the "next steps needed to stop a war". Fischer told reporters that the two countries will cooperate closely because "we both agree that the common position is that relevant UN Security Council resolutions, such as 1248 and 1441, must be fully implemented by the Iraqi government."
The European position has shifted from absolute opposition to war to calls for more time for inspections and possibly a deadline for Saddam to comply before military operations begin. Germany, France and the US share too many common interests to jeopardise them over this crisis. They, along with Egypt, agree that Iraq's arsenal must be dismantled, but differences arise over the tactics to achieve this and the appropriate timing for the use of force. "Discrepancy of opinions revolves around the means, not the end," said the Egyptian source. "As time passes, it's clear that the Europeans want to exhaust all possible diplomatic avenues before a war becomes a reality."