PARIS -- On the eve of an increasingly probable war with Iraq, Washington's continental partners -- both their people and their leaders -- are beginning to openly question the U.S. management of the 28-nation coalition opposing Iraq.
At the United Nations yesterday, France dropped its last-ditch proposal for a peace overture to Baghdad, after sharp objections from the U.S. ambassador. In the Spanish cities of Barcelona and Madrid, 75,000 students protested against a war that had not yet begun.
In Paris, 150 people called on the Iraqi ambassador to beg for peace. "Go see the Americans," said a diplomat who opened the embassy door for them.
The Italian newspaper La Stampa suggested giving Saddam Hussein a few days after last night's deadline to pull out of Kuwait. La Stampa said that "waiting just a few extra days would be worthwhile, especially for the Americans who are pursuing war not without anguish."
Since Friday, European Community diplomats have tried to pressure Washington into accepting an international peace conference to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a means of providing Mr. Hussein with a graceful exit from the standoff.
On Monday, France broke a tacit agreement not to propose any further resolutions before the deadline for an Iraqi withdrawal expired.
It floated a peace plan that seemed to duplicate the failed weekend package of U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar. Belgian, German, Spanish and Italian leaders backed the French plan after the U.S. refusal, in large measure to show their own citizens that they, like U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III, had "gone the extra mile for peace."
European diplomats had to strike a delicate balance. While wanting to show they were trying all doors to reach Mr. Hussein and were not toadying to the U.S. administration, questioning U.S. leadership too deeply could provoke an anti-American backlash and loss of popular support once a war had started.
Political commentators questioned whether the French, and the European Community, had waited too long before offering their own proposals or trying to make contact with Baghdad, unwisely ceding the diplomatic leadership to the United States.
Diplomatically, France's eleventh-hour scurrying for a settlement appeared haphazard and poorly executed. Hardly had it been announced than it was coolly rebuffed by the Americans and the British on the Security Council.
But domestically, the effort paid off. In a survey published in yesterday's Le Monde newspaper, 70 percent of the French questioned said that they felt France had done all it could to avoid war. Asked whether they thought that the United States had done the same, only 43 percent of the 976 people questioned said yes.