US hails Britain for its support as France maintains refusal to patrol

 

THE US yesterday hailed Britain for its "unstinting" support for cruise missile attacks against Iraq as the two countries agreed to patrol the extended no-fly zone over the south of the country despite France's refusal to take part.

The US Secretary of State, Mr Warren Christopher, told the British Foreign Secretary, Mr Malcolm Rifkind, that President Clinton appreciated strong and early backing from the British Prime Minister, Mr John Major, for the controversial strikes.

Speaking at the start of a brief European tour, Mr Christopher praised the "extraordinary partnership" between Washington and London. "We are very grateful to Prime Minister Major and the entire British government for their unstinting support," he said.

Later in Paris, Mr Christopher met the French Foreign Minister, Mr Herve de Charette, and President Jacques Chirac, but failed to persuade them to overcome their objections to the attacks.

In holding to their stance, the French signalled a clear difference of policy over Iraq that critics say is determined as much by commercial considerations as by professed doubts about the legal basis for the US strikes and fears for further destabilisation of a volatile region.

French planes will continue to take part in the post-1991 Provide Comfort and Southern Watch surveillance missions in the north and south of Iraq but will not operate beyond the 32nd parallel, the extension that takes the southern zone close to the suburbs of Baghdad.

Mr Rifkind, meanwhile, criticised the French, telling the BBC: "Those who criticise the Americans can only properly do so if they have an alternative strategy that would be more likely to deter Saddam Hussein from future aggression."

Mr Christopher claimed the 44 cruise missiles fired at Iraq on Tuesday and Wednesday had been an effective response to Baghdad after it sent troops into Kurdish regions of northern Iraq. "I think we have brought home to Saddam Hussein that there is a very high price for the kind of repressive conduct that he has taken in northern Iraq," he said.

"This is Saddam playing his old reckless game - one which the international community has to stand up to or we will find him feeling that he has a licence to go on. The only kind of language he understands is the language of force."

US and British officials also played down the extent of international opposition to the attacks, insisting they flowed from UN resolutions which had to be seen collectively rather than singly. Resolution 688 demanded an end to Iraqi repression but did not authorise action, though resolution 678 authorised "all necessary means" to "restore international peace and security."

"We haven't always had support on the first day or the first week, but over time the world community has come to recognise and get behind those who show leadership to face up to the aggressors," Mr Christopher said.

But the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Spring, acknowledged that there were "very different views" among EU member-states about the attacks on Iraq. The issue is to be discussed at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Tralee tomorrow.

At the UN in New York yesterday, British diplomats were lobbying for support for a watered down resolution expressing concern - but stopping short of condemnation - about Iraq's incursion into the Kurdisb area In Moscow, the Russian ultra-nationalist, Mr Vladimir Zhirinovsky, called Mr Clinton "worse than Hitler".