BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien cautiously declined on Monday to engage in "hypothetical debate" about possible U.S. military action against Iraq.
Speculation that Washington might launch strikes on Baghdad has risen since President Bush (news - web sites) described Iraq, Iran and North Korea (news - web sites) last month as forming an "axis of evil" developing weapons of mass destruction and sponsoring terror.
"We see no reason to discuss or to start to discuss military action against certain countries ... We think problems should be discussed when they are put on the table," Schroeder said after initial talks in Berlin with Chretien.
Schroeder referred to his meeting with Bush at the end of January. "It was important that President Bush assured me that the allies would be consulted if there was any change...I do not want to be drawn into a hypothetical debate," Schroeder said.
He said both he and Bush had agreed that "a lot of pressure" needed to be put on Iraq to accept U.N. weapons inspections.
The "axis of evil" reference has caused concern among some allies of the United States.
Schroeder commented after his foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, urged the United States over the weekend not to take unilateral action against Baghdad.
Fischer's comments echoed those of the EU's external affairs chief, Chris Patten, who urged the Republican U.S. administration last week to curb its unilateralist "instinct."
CANADA UNDER U.S. PRESSURE FOR SUPPORT
Chretien, who arrived in Berlin from Moscow on Sunday, said there was a debate going on about what course of action to take with Iraq but he followed Schroeder's line in not wanting to be drawn into a "hypothetical debate."
"When 'what if' will come, then we'll deal with it. It's not being discussed at the moment. We are in Afghanistan (news - web sites) for one reason. That's the war against terrorism," Chretien said.
Canada is under increasing pressure from the United States to approve possible unilateral military action against Iraq but it said earlier on Monday that it would not be pressured into backing a course of action it felt was wrong.
"You can debate it but we are not confronted with a new demand. If they (the United States) want Canada to be there, they will have to ask us. It's for us to decide," Chretien said.
Ottawa is in some ways Washington's closest ally but there is growing unease within the Canadian government about Bush's increasingly hard line against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (news - web sites).
Chretien bluntly told reporters in Moscow last week that any attempt to deal with Iraq unilaterally "would go nowhere."
This prompted U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (news - web sites) to call Chretien's chief foreign policy adviser, Claude Laverdure, to express her concern over the remarks.
Chretien was visiting Berlin and Munich and planned to leave on Friday for Stockholm. He was with a large delegation aimed at tying up economic deals and preparing for the next G8 summit. Canada is this year's president of the G8, which groups the seven leading industrialized powers and Russia.
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