The visit paid last weekend to the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas, by British prime minister Tony Blair exposed the yawning gulf separating the United States from Europe. In particular, it placed in question the much-vaunted special relationship between Washington and London. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington sources report that the two leaders scarcely agreed on a single issue – from economic policy and tariffs on European and US goods to military policy — especially the future of NATO and the supply of sophisticated US military technology and electronic gear for a projected European rapid deployment force, Europe’s stake in the exploitation of Caspian and Central Asian oil resources as well as in the oil pipeline system running from Central Asia to Pakistan, India and Japan via Afghanistan. Most particularly, Bush and Blair failed to hammer out a joint policy on the Middle East, the Palestinians and Israel.
Their single area of agreement was on an early timeline for the US-led offensive against Iraq: the first half of May (as DEBKA-Net-Weekly forecast). But even that faded to nothing three days after Blair returned home. Facing a hostile House of Commons, the British prime minister quickly backtracked: the time, he said, was not yet right for military action against Iraq. He was replying to a Conservative opposition question on whether he had promised President Bush British support for a US attack on Iraq.
Blair faces even greater opposition to military action against Iraq in his own Labor party.
Bush has thus far refused to bend to pressure from Europe, the Arab world and Blair himself to take a more conciliatory position toward Yasser Arafat. Unlike the Europeans, he is no longer willing to regard Arafat as Palestinian leader and wants to replace him with a moderate leader or leadership. He also hopes to open the way for Egypt to take control of the Gaza Strip and for Jordan to oversee the West Bank, directly or through surrogates.
In addition, the president and Europe are at odds over the question of an international observer or disengagement force between Israel and the Palestinians. The Europeans see this force as a way to guarantee Arafat’s continued leadership, chart the future borders of a Palestinian state and fix Israel’s final frontiers.
For Bush, the point of international observers would be as the groundwork for a US intervention force that would factor America’s intelligence and economic influence – and those of its Arab allies – into the Palestinian Authority’s structure.
Blair, like most members of the European Union, is anxious to preserve Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Authority as the nucleus of a Palestinian state that must be created as soon as possible. Britain also disapproves of Washington’s listing of violent Palestinian groups as terrorist to be targeted for eradication, particularly in view of the British intelligence services’ long-standing ties with certain of those groups.
This divergence of interests with Washington generated the offer of UK observers that Blair put forward in his Commons statement on April 10. Their task would be to monitor detainees held by the Palestinian Authority, “as part of international efforts to rebuild confidence so that negotiations could start.”
The important thing about the British observer mission is that it would be distinct from an international military force sent to monitor a US-brokered ceasefire, if one was attained, a force that would be largely American.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources reveal that the only concession Bush made to his supposedly closest European ally, Tony Blair, was to suspend for a short while the decisions reached on the controversial issues of the global war on terror, rogue governments and the Middle East, in the wake of vice president Dick Cheney’s Middle East tour last month. The president agreed to send secretary of state Colin Powell to the region to gather impressions for a reassessment of those decisions upon his return, on or around April 15 or 16.
But Bush stopped short of aligning his Middle East and Gulf policies with European and Arab principles. He believes that the Powell mission was an extra mile towards Europe and the Arabs, although both are far from satisfied.
Since making this concession, Washington is projecting mixed signals instead of firm resolve.
While seeking Blair’s endorsement for an early strike on Baghdad, the president sent Powell to tell European and Arab leaders that the date had not yet been decided and that he is open to suggestions.
Adding to the confusion, the president decided to act to topple Arafat, but also dispatched Powell to meet him publicly.
Not surprisingly, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington say US expectations of Powell’s peace mission remain low, despite the investment made in its success: his planned talks with Arafat and the disapproving note coming from Washington regarding Israel’s West Bank offensive. Neither side is expected to budge much either way. Anyway, Arafat is booked for eclipse and the Bush administration is only playing for time and a measure of de-escalation in the violence, to allow the US to move against Iraq at the right moment.
This luxury is unlikely to be granted Washington by the coalition formed by Arafat, the Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, the Iranian spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei or Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. They will resort to terrorist and military tactics to push the Middle East across the threshold of violence, leaving the United States to quench the flames on its own, without Europe. (See also first article.)
At the presidential ranch in Crawford, Blair failed to crown himself the statesman closest to the US president’s ear, and key conduit between Bush and European leaders. The UK premier’s own personal stature and his political standing as prime minister will suffer as a result, undercutting his ability to persuade Britain to scrap the pound sterling and adopt the euro. This will in turn reduce his standing in Brussels, and retilt the continent’s internal power balance.
Without Britain as the transatlantic link, Europe and the United States will pull farther apart – the areas of non-agreement and non-understanding between them widening.
Russia and Germany begin to emerge as Washington’s closest allies in Europe. Key politicians in Germany are already vying over who can come up with the most pro-American platform. US economic ties with Russia and Germany are starting to strengthen and expand, while the two Europeans draw closer as well.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Berlin and Moscow report that a senior German financial delegation recently visited Moscow and discussed possible German investment in US-Russian plans to develop Caspian Sea oil fields. At a press conference on Thursday, April 11, to mark the end of their two-day summit, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a settlement of Moscow’s Soviet-era debt to East Germany, to be calculated at today’s sharply depreciated value, and repaid in installments.
Germany and France continue to grow apart, a process accelerated by Paris’s failure to develop economic and military ties with Moscow.