Vaclav Havel among 'European Eight' backing George W. Bush in US stance on Iraq

José María Aznar (left) and Tony Blair, photo: CTK

The current division within Europe over possible US military intervention against Iraq became more marked on Thursday with the publication of an open letter by eight European leaders showing support for the US. Contrasting Germany and France's growing opposition to the US stance on Iraq, the letter was signed by statesmen including Britain's Tony Blair, Spain's Jose Maria Aznar, and also Czech President Vaclav Havel. They called for 'unity' and 'cohesion' in a post-9/11 world, in the aims of maintaining world security. At stake: the need for Iraq to comply with UN resolutions demanding the country's disarmament.

José María Aznar  (left) and Tony Blair,  photo: CTK
One might have thought, in the few remaining days of his presidency, that Vaclav Havel might refrain from a final political statement, a final moral flourish before leaving office and the world stage - but that has not been the case: clearly the moral weight of what to do about Iraq is too important an issue to pass over, especially given recent European division over US policy. Given the opportunity to add his name to an open letter showing solidarity with the US over Iraq, the Czech president did not hesitate, signing while on a state visit to Slovakia. In the letter, printed in papers around the world the signiatories stated they were 'bound by Security Council Resolution 1441, which they called 'Saddam Hussein's last chance to disarm using peaceful means'.

From the Czech point of view, the move, while reasserting Mr Havel's moral convictions in the need to push actively for a safer world, did catch some off guard. For one, Mr Havel was the only symbolic head of state to sign - all other signiatories were Prime Ministers actively leading their respective countries: Spain, Britain, Portugal, Italy, as well as Poland, Hungary, and Denmark. Some commentators noted that as the only president Mr Havel undermined the authority of Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, who himself refrained from signing, saying the Czech Republic's stance on Iraq had already been determined by parliament. In his view any further statements were superfluous. Political analyst Vaclav Pinkava, however, understands the Czech president's motive for his show of solidarity, if he does question the open letter's value in the face of Mr Bush's recent State of the Union address:

Protests - USA,  photo: CTK
"I find it a very interesting contrast with Bush's speech, the State of the Union speech, in which he made the statement, though I won't be able to quote him exactly, that the course of American policy won't be altered by decisions taken elsewhere. So, in this sense it is a completely irrelevant document, you know, if you take that statement of George Bush's literally, then any comment, from anybody - good or bad - positive or negative about American foreign policy, is from the viewpoint of the American administration seemingly irrelevant, so why bother?"

On the other hand, the statement could be a last effort by European statesmen to try and retain influence on a situation which could soon spin out of control:

"If we isolate the US, if we let them be so self-absorbed in this, and feel so left out, and nobody 'understands' and they're left the only ones 'guarding' world safety, they're going to do a few more totally crazy things that could really affect the safety of the world, because they will be isolationist. I think that is really Prime Minister Tony Blair's position and the others, they are trying to retain an influence on US policy by being on side with the US. Whether that will work or not, given the imbalance in the 'muscle' power of the respective countries is very questionable."