Europe reassured, Mideast worried

President Bush's measured blast against the Iraqi government Thursday at the UN won plaudits in major European countries, but listeners in many Middle Eastern and Muslim countries worried that it meant war in Iraq is now inevitable.

The US leader's speech proved a key element in his drive to win international support for his campaign against Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, and that in itself came as a relief to Europeans.

"The Americans are serious about working with United Nations members and this is good news," said Bernhard May, deputy director of the German Foreign Policy Association in Berlin.

"Mainstream opinion in Europe will be reassured that [Bush] is giving the UN a chance," said Charles Grant, head of the Centre for European Reform, a think tank in London.

Bush's challenge to the UN – that it should ensure enforcement of its weapons inspection resolutions – was welcome, Mr. Grant added. "It is better that the US deals with what it sees as a threat through the UN rather than going off unilaterally".

Elsewhere, however, the US leader's speech was received with greater skepticism. "The US is not really waiting for UN sanctions," argued Michael Young, a Lebanese political analyst. "It was an effort to win some support from the Security Council, but his plans won't change if the UN doesn't support him".

Bush's warning that "action will be unavoidable" unless Baghdad complies fully with all UN resolutions sparked accusations of double standards from Palestinian leaders. "I felt a little bit jealous, to the extent that George Bush was keen on the necessity of bringing Iraq into compliance with UN and Security Council resolutions, because our main problem is that Israel is not complying with UN and Security Council resolutions," complained Ghassan Khattib, Labor Minister in the Palestinian Authority.

And in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, religious leaders saw Bush's speech as an expression of "arrogance," in the words of Din Syamsuddin, who heads the country's second largest Muslim organization.

"I'm praying that war won't happen," he said. "But if it does, not only Indonesian Muslims but Muslims in many countries will see it as a manifestation of the arrogance of the United States. Their actions only encourage religious radicalism."

That is a fear that Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf has voiced, as he struggles to keep his country firmly anchored in the US-led coalition against terrorism even though only 10 percent of his countrymen support it.

But Musharraf's powerful security forces would likely keep the lid on popular anger at any invasion of Iraq, said Ardeshir Cowasjee, a political analyst with the Dawn newspaper. "If the US does attack Iraq, those guys who don't like America won't like it one bit, but they won't be able to do anything major", he predicted.

In neighboring India, the implications of Bush's threats against the Iraqi government, which he accused of seeking weapons of mass destruction and of repressing the Iraqi people, triggered some concerns.

"If it's a war on weapons of mass destruction, then India and Pakistan also fall into that category" since they are both nuclear-capable, pointed out Kanti Bajpai, a political analyst at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

"And if this is going to be a war against countries that treat their citizens poorly with regard to human rights, then there are a lot of countries in that category also. So they worry that someday they may be under the gun from the Americans."

The implications of Bush's rhetoric against Iraq are already felt in Russia. Although Moscow has publicly opposed any attack on its old Mideastern ally, President Vladimir Putin this week threatened neighboring Georgia, which he accuses of harboring Chechen guerrillas.

He said Russian troops would be justified in attacking Georgia on the grounds of self defense – and cited UN resolution 1373, a US-inspired measure passed after September 11th that approves the use of force in self defense.

Bush's demand that the UN Security Council pass a resolution with teeth to force Saddam to allow in weapons inspectors – and that if the UN does not act then America will do so on its own – has deepened the sense that a US invasion of Iraq is now only a matter of time.

That has nudged some countries closer to Washington. In Jordan, for example, which borders Iraq, King Abdullah recently warned Iraqi leaders that they would have to "bear the responsibility before their own people, nation and the world" for what might happen if they continued to defy the UN.

And in France, the leader of President Jacques Chirac's party, Alain Juppe, said Thursday that "France should not give the impression that the use of force is unlikely" as it helps to draft a Security Council resolution.

• Reported by staff writers Scott Baldauf in New Delhi; Scott Peterson in Moscow; Ilene R. Prusher in Jerusalem; and by special correspondents Dan Murphy in Jakarta, Indonesia , and Nicholas Blanford in Beirut, Lebanon.

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