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The Vilnius letter was a declaration of support for the United States' aim of régime change in Iraq by means of an invasion. It was published at the height of the Iraq disarmament crisis of early 2003.
The letter of the eight of 30 January, 2003, that according to many observers torpedoed the European Union's cautious position in the developing crisis, followed Colin Powell's assertion in the UN Security Council of Iraq's continuing development of illicit weapons. It was followed on 6 February by a letter from the Vilnius group comprising Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia, which effectively supported a US military intervention in Iraq. The letter expressed confidence in the evidence presented by Powell and agreed that Iraq had clearly violated UN resolutions. In capitals around the world, the letter could not be interpreted as anything but support of a US military intervention in Iraq.
By expressing support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq — by that point seemingly inevitable — the Vilnius letter was a public rebuke by ten candidates for EU-membership of EU's Common Security Policy, and more specifically for the EU's position in the Iraq disarmament crisis. The signatories were later dubbed "New Europe" by the US Defence Minister Rumsfeld, and were to receive emotional criticism from the French president Chirac. These events are generally seen as a low-water mark of the European Union's attempted Common Security Policy.
According to reports in respected national newspapers, the US envoy Bruce P. Jackson was the architect behind both the letter of the eight and the Vilnius letter. He arranged a meeting in the Lithuanian embassy in Washington, where the foreign ministers of all ten countries participated. The text had been proposed in advance, but according to the press reports it was Bruce Jackson who convinced the participants to accept the proposal and to disregard efforts by Bulgaria — then a rotating member of the UN Security Council — to alter the text. Since the early 1990s, Bruce Jackson had been an informal advisor to central European governments, advising them on the road to admission into NATO. He allegedly now convinced the foreign ministers of the Vilnius ten, that their support for the US in this international conflict would give them much better chances in the US Congress when it was to vote on accepting those countries into NATO.
Critical European observers wrote that the central European states seemed to be exchanging their earlier client-state relationship to the Soviet Union for a similar satellite status with the United States. They claimed that the central European governments were seeing their relationship with the US as much more important than their relations within the European Union. Their admission to the EU was not jeopardized, but US promises — not least in terms of funding of future military improvements — may have been at stake; and the military might of the US seemed a much stronger protection against future threats from a revanchist Russia.
For their part the central European states emphasized a commitment to such traditional Western European and American values as free trade and democracy — and also their participation in the War against terrorism. The letter referred to the "compelling evidence" presented by US secretary of state Colin Powell to the UN, and added: "Our countries understand the dangers posed by tyranny and the special responsibility of democracies to defend our shared values." It is unclear to what extent these governments really believed Iraq to be a potential threat to international security, similar to the terrorist-sheltering Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Some have claimed that they understood the terrorism issue to be empty rhetoric aimed at concealing the geo-political motives behind the war — rhetoric of a kind they were all too used to from their earlier intimate contacts with the Soviet Union. Critics argued that, rather than defending shared values, the signatories were undermining the authority of international law and the United Nations.
It has also been proposed that the letter was a clever plan devised by the US to undermine the growing strength and influence of the European Union — and in particular France and Germany — by using former Soviet satellite states as instruments.
Some central European newspapers pointed out the foreign policy problem their governments faced wasn’t primarily connected with Iraq but instead concerned the clash between the regional powers of the European continent: Russia, France, and Germany on one side, and the Atlantic powers, the United States and the United Kingdom, on the other. Critics argued that by signing the Vilnius letter, they were responsible for aggravating the crisis in the European Union, and putting national security in danger. Defenders of the declaration respond that the EU's defence capabilities remain limited and that the Vilnius governments understood that their de facto security interest lay with the US.
14 January 2003 Jack Straw, Foreign Minister of the United Kingdom, announced that London would not wait for an UN decision to attack Iraq and would act on its own. Meanwhile two other countries, Poland and Macedonia offered to participate in the conflict with troops.
27 January 2003 Hans Blix presented the UN Security Council with the report that the inspectors had been granted access to every site they needed to inspect, but “It is not enough to open doors,” he said.
28 January 2003 George W. Bush delivered his “State of the Union” speech to the US congress, alleging that Saddam Hussein had ties with terrorist organizations, and that Iraq was a serious threat against the security of the US citizens as the world’s most dangerous producer of weapons of mass-destruction.
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