Leaders criticize U.S. policy on Iraq


Published: Friday, January 24, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 23, 2003 at 11:02 p.m.
DAVOS, Switzerland - The United States was in the hot seat at Thursday's gathering of the world's business and political leaders, criticized for a go-it-alone foreign policy that many fear will lead to war with Iraq and for a sluggish economy hampering a global revival.
The issue of growing U.S. threats against Iraq dominated early sessions and corridor conversations at the World Economic Forum, whose theme this year is "Building Trust."
Swiss President Pascal Couchepin was cheered during his opening speech, when he called for all peaceful means to be pursued to disarm Iraq and warned that "force must not be used before the matter has been brought before the U.N. Security Council."
The forum returned to its home in this Swiss Alpine playground after last year's meeting was moved to New York in tribute to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
But a year of corporate scandals, executive sackings and turbulent markets, coupled with the threat of terrorism, cast a pall over this year's meetings.
About 2,300 participants are expected for the six-day session - down from 3,200 two years ago.
About two dozen heads of state and government signed up, down from more than 30 in 2001.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, leader of a major Islamic nation, went further than Couchepin in his opening address and got an equally resounding reception from more than 800 invited guests.
"The forces against the 'axis of evil' are not going to win because the target is wrong. It will create more anger," he warned, referring to President Bush's denunciation a year ago of an "axis of evil" comprising Iran, Iraq and North Korea.
He also charged that Bush was trying to "out-terrorize the terrorists" with an ill-directed war on the al-Qaeda network.
U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a last-minute replacement for Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch at the opening ceremony, conceded that America needs "to communicate much better" about terrorist threats and its vision "for a free and prosperous world."
"We're here to hear more and to get more dialogue," he said.
The Bush administration is sending several heavy hitters to Davos to make its case. France and Germany also have exasperated Washington with an increasingly outspoken campaign against any quick military action against Iraq.
Attorney General John Ashcroft is scheduled to speak Friday. Secretary of State Colin Powell is due Saturday, but he will not be able to discuss differences over Iraq with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who canceled his trip Thursday because of Paris peace talks concerning the Ivory Coast conflict.
"The odds that we can resolve the Iraq problem to the American satisfaction without going to war is no greater than 20 percent," Ellen Laipson, head of the Washington-based Henry L. Stimson Center, told a panel surveying global security issues.
Gareth Evans, a former Australian foreign minister who now heads the International Crisis Group, and Dewi Fortuna Anwar, of The Habibie Center in Indonesia, strongly criticized American unilateralism. All three think-tanks focus on global security issues.
It's "not even unilateralism, but recognizing that any other country exists," said Evans, who nonetheless said he still believes war is avoidable.
Fortuna Anwar stressed that many people admire the American way of life and aspire to its democracy and economic success.
"What people resent," she said, "is American unilateralism, and the assumption that the United States belongs to a different planet ... (and) can ignore international law and the U.N. with impunity. I think that is the crux of the growing anti-American sentiment worldwide now."
She warned that a unilateral decision by the United States to go to war would fuel anti-American sentiment and set back Muslim societies, including Indonesia's efforts to achieve political stability and economic growth.
Economists warned that war also was the big unknown threatening economic recovery in 2003.
"We are sitting here looking forward to a set of risks - namely war - that have some truly profound downsides," Gail Fosler, chief economist at the Conference Board, a U.S. business group, told a panel surveying the global economy.
If an Iraqi war causes world oil prices to double, Bush's proposed tax cuts should be enough to "virtually offset" the impact on the United States, she said.
But if such a war provokes new terrorist attacks, the resulting blow to consumer sentiment could send the United States into a recession, she warned.

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