Americans defiant over growing divisions with Europe
6 February 2002
By Toby Harnden in Washington
AMERICAN delegates to a security conference in Munich have returned to Washington dismayed by European criticism of President Bush's "axis of evil" speech and charges that it signalled a new unilateralism.
"Fundamentally, there's a big reluctance on the part of many to help us," said Senator Jon Kyl. "All of this hand-wringing about how he said it is cover for 'we don't want to do anything'."
There have also been condemnations of American policy during this week's World Economic Forum in New York.
The Americans' cool reception at the Munich conference compounded the outrage in Washington over the suggestion by Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, that Mr Bush's State of the Union speech was aimed at a domestic audience and for party political reasons.
After the outcry in parts of Europe about the treatment of detainees at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Americans had already begun to feel that the sense of world solidarity after the September 11 attacks was disappearing fast.
Representative Lindsay Graham said he had detected a new "tension in the room" compared with the same conference a year ago when there was a contentious debate on missile defence and plans for a European rapid reaction force.
There was "an uneasiness about where things were going with Iraq" and a general discontent with the linking of Saddam Hussein's regime and those in Iran and North Korea.
He was not worried about this because "to me, Nato, in the global war on terrorism, isn't a major player".
Brent Scowcroft, a former national security adviser who was himself uncomfortable with the "axis of evil" phrase, said: "The Americans and Europeans are still drifting apart."
The comments, made to reporters on the plane flying back from Munich, where the American delegates were among 250 defence officials and military experts from 43 countries, reflected a fundamental division between American and European political opinion.
Some Pentagon officials believe that there has been a wilful misrepresentation of comments by Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy US defence secretary, to fit European prejudices about US unilateralism.
During his speech in Munich Mr Wolfowitz praised the 27 coalition partners working at US Central Command Headquarters in Florida and the 82 nations contributing to the Afghan campaign, but he was still accused of saying America wanted to go it alone.
Gert Weisskirchen, a German MP, said: "There has to be a more multilateral approach in US policy. It cannot be that you decide on your own, and we trot along after you."
Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said action against Iraq "would require incontrovertible evidence in order to justify [it]".
Sergei Ivanov, the Russian defence minister, claimed that America "has failed to elaborate a generally recognised definition of international terrorism".
Europeans at the conference said they were disturbed at what they considered bellicose and even jingoistic sentiments from the American speakers.