PARIS — THE 12 countries of the European Community want to see Saddam Hussein tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Or do they, really?
The EC's foreign ministers accepted at a meeting this week a German proposal to seek a United Nations trial of the Iraqi leader for his "war of aggression" against Kuwait, attempted genocide, and crimes against humanity. But most European officials and observers see the proposal more as a means of keeping pressure on Saddam than as a serious initiative.
Some observers even see the idea as an attention-grabbing method for the EC, which played an insignificant role in the Gulf conflict, and Germany in particular, which was most notably absent from the Gulf arena, to hoist their flag in international waters.
Others note that it would be difficult for the EC to argue convincingly for a trial of Saddam, a leader currently in power, when other dictators who had similar records - such as Pol Pot in Cambodia - were not tried by the international community.
"It's true that the idea presents more questions than it answers," says a spokesman for French President Fran 141&gt;ois Mitterrand. The French president is not opposed to the idea, the spokesman said, but would want to make sure it was "well thought out and not just something done because it sounds good."
EC leaders took the proposal to UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar in Strasbourg, France, where he visited Tuesday, and were expected to bring it up last night in Luxembourg, when EC foreign ministers meet with United States Secretary of State James Baker III.
Jacques Poos, the foreign minister of Luxembourg, which holds the EC presidency through June, said Mr. Perez de Cuellar agreed to have his legal staff study the proposition. But the UN leader, who is working with the Iraqi government on establishing safety zones for Kurdish and Shiite refugees, is believed to have little enthusiasm for a proposal that could hurt these efforts.
The EC is also expected to receive little encouragement for the trial proposal from Mr. Baker. Although President Bush first raised the possibility of a war-crimes trial against Saddam last fall, the US has more recently left the issue to Kuwait.
There are also questions about how the proposed trial would be received in Arab countries, especially those closest to Europe on the Mediterranean's southern rim, where the people were largely pro-Iraqi during the war.
"It would be poorly received, strongly resented," says Remy Leveau, a specialist of Europe-Arab relations at the Paris Institute of Political Studies. "If it remains a form of propaganda to keep pressure on Iraq, it won't cause much response."
"But beyond that it would raise the same cries of 'the West enforcing the law of the strongest' and 'the crushing of the Arab world' that rallied the people during the war."