WHILE Europeans were witnessing a show of Franco-German unity this week, they were also watching a deepening split in the western alliance over Iraq.
France and Germany marked the historic treaty of friendship signed 40 years ago by Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle with a joint sitting of Parliament and meeting of the Cabinet.
While this symbolism was not as powerful as Adenauer and de Gaulle praying together at Reims cathedral and Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand holding hands on the battlefield in Verdun, the occasion was no less significant.
Gerhard Schroeder and Jacques Chirac signalled their strong opposition to a US-led war on Iraq, with Germany refusing to sanction any type of military action and France insisting on UN approval.
This comes at a sensitive time as the UN arms inspectors, who have asked for more time to finish their work, are due to report to the Security Council tomorrow and Germany due to take over its chairmanship for a month from Feb 1.
Their stand earned a rebuke from US Secretary of State Ronald Rumsfeld, who described both countries as representing old Europe while The Times of London criticised Schroeder of undermining the western alliance.
Both have reasons to worry: Nato has adopted a wait-and-see attitude to US requests for logistical support when the invasion begins amid growing public opposition to war, not only in Europe but also the United States.
Even in the pro-US camp, the governments in Britain, Spain, Italy and Turkey have to contend with rising anti-war sentiments, forcing the Spanish and Italian prime ministers to tread carefully.
Despite grave misgivings at home, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has come out forcefully for the White House, but the increasingly strong objections from Germany, France, Russia and China threaten to make him the odd man out.
Turkey is in a dilemma, with the new government increasingly at odds with the military over support for George W. Bush, whose Iraqi policy is opposed by some 85% of the people of the country, which is seen as a key player in a war.
Iraq, according to commentators, is the latest and, perhaps, the most damaging, sign of the growing mistrust across the Atlantic since Bush entered the White House.
Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, put it quite bluntly in a recent interview with Financial Times: We do not see the world in such black and white terms (as the Americans).
He blamed this all or nothing stance of Bush on the growing strength of the Christian right in American politics and its deep influence on the White House.
To Bush, the Sept 11 attacks were an act of war and an expression of evil, but to secular Europeans the atrocities were extreme symptoms of political dysfunction from failed states such as Afghanistan.
What for the US is a war on terrorism, for Europe is the fight against terrorism, said Solana, a former Spanish foreign minister and ex-Nato secretary-general.
The White House worldview has far-ranging implications for foreign policy, not least in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict whose peaceful resolution is seen by the Europeans as crucial to the struggle against terrorism.
Their strong opposition to a US-led war against Iraq is also governed by fears of incalculable risks to the already volatile Middle East, a concern shared by the countries in the region but not by the White House.
Backed by an influential Israeli lobby, the White House refuses to deal with Yasser Arafat, who was elected by the Palestinians as their leader but who is seen as a terrorist in Washington.
The Europeans want to keep a dialogue going with Arafat despite their criticism of his leadership, part of their policy of engagement as they have kept the door open to Iran and North Korea in contrast to the aggressive US policy of containment.
Solana talks about the causes of terrorism, one of many threats to world peace that include poverty, regional conflicts, disease and climate change.
Unlike the White House, he advocates different political tools to address these pressing problems: conflict prevention, crisis management, and sustainable development.
Perhaps, the US approach could be summed up by their dislike for peacekeeping and nation-building.
Whether Bush is going to war wrapped in the mantle of religion, other critics see oil as the hidden agenda, pointing to the Project for the New American Century, a right-wing lobby group.
In 1998, this group demanded regime change in Iraq to protect American interests in the region. Among its backers were Rumsfeld, Vice-President Dick Cheney and other key US officials.
o Tan Kah Peng is Editor, European Union Bureau, based in London (e-mail: email@example.com)