'Moment of Truth' in the Azores

Saturday, 15 March 2003 19:58 by: Anonymous

Editor's Note: There is something notable in the chosen location for this summit an island 900 miles off the European mainland.  This meeting could not take place in Washington, London or Madrid, because it would have inspired massive demonstrations.  These war allies were forced to meet in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, a fitting metaphor for the current state of their diplomatic isolation. - wrp

By Paul Reynolds
BBC News

Saturday 15 March 2003

The carefully choreographed meeting in the Azores between George Bush, Tony Blair and Jose Maria Aznar is in effect a council of war.

Officially, the line is that it will examine the possibility of taking diplomacy forward, and it could be that the Security Council will be offered one last and brief chance to reach agreement.

But the reality is that the Council negotiations are getting nowhere, the United States is running out of patience, and "the moment of truth", as Mr Bush's National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice put it, is at hand.

What "the moment of truth" means is the abandoning of the attempts to get the elusive second resolution and taking a decision to go to war.

Such an announcement would need extremely delicate handling, especially by Mr Blair, who would have to explain why, despite his confident predictions, there was to be no new resolution and why war would be legal.

Which is why this summit has been so carefully arranged.

It did not actually have to be held at all - the telephone would have done just as well for decision-making.

But consider the presentational advantages of the format for all concerned, particularly the British prime minister.

By choosing the mid-Atlantic setting of the Azores, Tony Blair does not have to be seen running to the White House; Mr Bush tries to show that he is not directing it all from Washington; Mr Aznar gets his reward for co-sponsoring the resolution and provides another European figure to demonstrate that Britain is not alone on its side of the ocean.

War 'not far off'

And to further point up the co-ordinated nature of these events, there was the sudden announcement by Mr Bush on Friday that he was going to release the long delayed "road map" for negotiations leading to a Palestinian state.

White House officials were even saying that the soon to be appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen, would be received by the President in due course.

Thus the exposed flank of the American-British position was covered.

Mr Bush's weekly radio address on Saturday added another indication that war is not far off.

It was not the language of diplomacy - it was the language of preparing people for war.

"We must recognise that some threats are so grave that they must be removed, even if it requires military force," he said.
"Governments are now showing whether their stated commitment to liberty and security are words alone - or convictions they are prepared to act upon."

Mr Aznar, whose right-wing views have made him a willing ally in this crisis, added his own comment:

'Not morally acceptable'

"Not acting to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction is neither politically nor morally acceptable," he said.

Spain, though, has sent no troops to help enforce this principle.

The UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who will be reluctant to admit that there will be a war until five minutes before it happens, has said that it is now "more probable".

With such words being uttered in advance, there appears to be little doubt about the outcome.

Indeed, we learn that the White House speechwriters have already started work on Mr Bush's address in which he will tell the American people that they are going to war.

Even the Azores have a symbolic significance - they are owned by Portugal, Britain's oldest ally.

The historically and literary minded will recall another event there involving the British and the Spanish, immortalised in Tennyson's poem, The Revenge.

The first line was familiar to generations of British schoolchildren:

"At Flores in the Azores, Sir Richard Grenville lay"

Inspiring story

Grenville was one of the mariners (pirates in the Spanish view) so loved by Queen Elizabeth I.

But he got caught by the Spanish fleet in the Azores and his little ship Revenge fought alone and to the death - a typically inspiring story of heroic British failure.

The poem is full of anti-Spanish sentiment ("Let us bang these dogs of Seville, the children of the devil").

One wonders if Mr Blair will recite it to Jose Maria Aznar as they look out across the waters and consider how alliances change.

Go to Original

Tensions Rise in Washington
By Steve Schifferes
BBC News

Saturday 15 March 2003

Even by the standards of the last few months, it has been a tense 24 hours in Washington as the Iraq diplomatic endgame reaches its probable climax.

The first sign that there was something unusual going on in Washington began at lunchtime on Thursday, when President Bush unexpectedly cancelled a St Patrick's Day lunch at the Capitol with the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern.

The decision was so sudden that press and protocol detail were already seated in the presidential motorcade about to depart when they were told the president was staying behind.

It turned out that he had decided to take an urgent call from UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has been growing increasingly concerned about the possible failure of the UK-sponsored UN resolution.

To the Azores

The fruits of that conversation became apparent the next morning, when Mr Bush chose the symbolic setting of the White House Rose Garden - where the Oslo peace agreement was unveiled - to signal his renewed commitment to the Middle East peace process, flanked by a silent Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Earlier, it had been announced that Mr Bush would be flying to the Azores for a hurried summit with his closest allies on the UN Security Council on Sunday.

Mr Bush took no questions, and it was left to White House national security advisor Condeleeza Rice - who had gone to the Arab television station al-Jazeera for an interview about the new initiative - to explain the purpose of the emergency summit.

The press moved quickly, with a dozen news camera crews waiting for Dr Rice as she emerged for the impromptu press conference on K Street, as well as curious members of the public behind quickly-assembled yellow police tape.

The leaders' aim is "to think about ways in which the UN security process can come to a conclusion... the moment of truth is coming here," she said, taking a few questions from the reporters' scrum before her motorcade swept away.

Press management

Tensions were also high at the regular press briefing by White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who explained that the US did not need a new UN resolution, "but it is important to our allies, so it is important to us".

He said that there was no need for the president to have announced the summit, "as there was no chance that the press would fail to notice" the event and ask him questions.

The president, meanwhile, departed for his weekly retreat in the Maryland countryside, Camp David, before flying on Sunday.
But there is likely to be little news access to the Azores summit, held on a remote military airbase on a mid-Atlantic island, with only a few press pool journalists likely to be allowed to attend.

The sudden changes of plan, and the tightening of access, is a sign of the ratcheting tension as the crisis moves to its climax.

There have been weeks of waiting in Washington, as a decision on whether to go to war has been postponed and new deadlines set.

But with no sign of a breakthrough on the diplomatic front, this weekend may well prove a key decision point.

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