© St. Petersburg Times, published March 19, 2003
President Bush's ultimatum to Saddam Hussein reverberated around the world Tuesday.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair won a vote of support in the House of Commons, though more members of his party rebelled. Russian lawmakers postponed a vote on an arms control treaty because of the impending war; French officials continued to argue against war but hinted at cooperation; and Turkey said it will vote this week on allowing in U.S. bombers -- but not troops.
Blair withstood another large-scale revolt by members of his Labor Party, winning parliamentary approval for his decision to join the United States in military action against Iraq.
Blair's forces in the House of Commons defeated an amendment from Labor dissidents by a vote of 396-217, with as many as 139 of the antiwar votes coming from Laborites. The votes opposing the prime minister were considerably fewer than Labor dissenters had predicted and Blair's supporters had feared.
Later, an even greater majority endorsed a government-sponsored motion calling for taking "all means necessary" to disarm Iraq.
The day began inauspiciously for Blair when two junior ministers, John Denham from the Home Office and Lord Hunt from the health ministry, resigned in protest. They joined Robin Cook, the leader of the Commons, who quit the Cabinet on Monday and gave a stirring speech of his own Monday night explaining his reasons in the House.
However, Clare Short, the most outspoken member of the Cabinet, decided to stay on despite having recently called the prime minister's policy reckless.
Russian lawmakers postponed indefinitely a vote Tuesday to ratify a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms treaty, as the Parliament speaker warned that a war against Iraq could endanger the pact.
The treaty, agreed to in May by Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Bush, requires that the two nations cut their strategic nuclear arsenals by about two-thirds, to 1,700 to 2,200 deployed warheads each, by 2012.
The treaty was seen as more advantageous to Russia than the now-defunct START II agreement, which specifically banned Russia from deploying land-based missiles with multiple warheads. The new deal would leave it to each nation to decide which weapons it will scrap. That would let Russia keep its Soviet-built multiwarhead SS-18 and SS-19 missiles at the core of its nuclear arsenal.
Russia's lower house, the State Duma, had been expected to take up debate on the treaty Friday. But the Duma Council, which sets the legislative agenda, put off the vote indefinitely and did not set a new date.
"We consider ratification very important, but now this step is not justified," said Sergei Shishkaryov, the deputy chairman of the Duma's international affairs committee. He added, "In essence, we are standing on the threshold of World War III."
President Jacques Chirac of France said Bush's ultimatum "jeopardizes future methods of peaceful disarmament in crises linked to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."
"Iraq does not represent today an immediate threat that would justify an immediate war," Chirac said in a speech to the nation Tuesday.
Chirac continued to push for a last-minute U.N. resolution that would send inspectors back into Iraq and delay a military action by the U.S.-led coalition. Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin of France was scheduled to travel to New York today for a U.N. Security Council meeting, as was German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.
But in a signal that Chirac might yet soften his opposition, Jean-David Levitte, France's ambassador to the United States, told CNN that France could join the coalition against Iraq if Hussein "were to use chemical and biological weapons."
"This would change the situation completely and immediately for the French government," he said.
Turkey's government said today that it would ask Parliament to grant the U.S. Air Force the right to use Turkish airspace in an Iraq war but would not immediately ask lawmakers to allow in U.S. troops.
Cabinet spokesman Cemil Cicek said that a resolution allowing airspace rights would be put to a Parliament vote by Thursday at the latest and that a separate motion on troop deployment could be considered later.
U.S. bombers based in Europe or the United States would need to cross Turkey to strike Iraq, and Washington urgently wants permission to use Turkish airspace.
Saudi Arabia, one of the United States' strongest allies in the Middle East, said Tuesday that it would take no part in an American-led invasion of "brotherly Iraq" and warned against a breakup of the country after a war.
As if to underline the reasons for that position, an explosion ripped through a house in the capital earlier Tuesday, killing a man who was apparently building a bomb. The government is investigating any link to al-Qaida.
Reading a statement on state television Tuesday evening in the name of King Fahd, who is incapacitated, Crown Prince Abdullah, the country's de facto ruler, said, "The kingdom will not participate in any way in the war" against Iraq, adding that Saudi Arabia's armed forces would not enter Iraq.
Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar on Tuesday ruled out sending Spanish combat troops to take part in a U.S.-led attack on Iraq but said he would deploy military personnel and equipment in a support capacity and offer warplanes to defend Turkey.
"Spain will not participate in any attack or offensive missions," Aznar told Parliament, ending weeks of speculation as to whether Spain would send in any combat troops.
One of the most pointed criticisms Tuesday came from German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
"My question was and is: Does the degree of threat stemming from the Iraqi dictator justify a war that will bring certain death to thousands of innocent men, women and children? My answer was and is: No," he said in a three-minute speech on German television.
In the face of strong and growing opposition, the Japanese prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, expressed strong support Tuesday for the United States' ultimatum to President Saddam Hussein of Iraq to leave his country within 48 hours or face war.
"Now that it is determined that the extremely dangerous regime of Hussein has no intention to disarm, I believe it appropriate to support America's use of force," Koizumi said at a news conference Tuesday.
"Prime Minister Koizumi made it clear that because of the constitutional constraints, Japan will not participate in any military action against Iraq," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima said.