Just when Iraq seemed to be responding to the threat of force, France and Germany answer Saddam's prayers and destabilise the plan.
If France and Germany and Belgium want to avoid a war with Iraq, they are going about it in a pretty strange way. Today they let it be known that they will refuse to help another member of NATO, Turkey, defend itself if attacked by Iraq. This their way of showing that they do not approve of how the Americans and British are dealing with Iraq. The behaviour of these countries is a scandal without precedent which will weaken if not destroy the Western alliance.
But that, alas, is perhaps, what the French (who are leading this destructive march to war) actually want. Perfidious Paris, leader of the "axis of weasels", indeed.
Look at the Turkish issue first. It is utterly inexcusable - and unprecedented - for NATO members to refuse to help defend another member of the NATO alliance for their own political reasons. NATO, based on collective deterrence, the idea that an attack on one is an attack on all, is probably the most successful alliance in modern history. But no alliance can survive such ignoble, selfish behaviour as that in which the French and Germans are now indulging.
Lord Powell, Mrs Thatcher's principal foreign affairs adviser, said today, "It is inexcusable to play politics with the defence of a vital NATO ally." Turkey has a long border with Iraq and is clearly threatened by it. If it asks for the means to defend itself, it should get that immediately. If any member is denied the means of self defence NATO will collapse.
France and Germany, joined by Belgium, had till 10 am this morning actually to veto Turkey's request. At the NATO ministerial meeting in Munich over the weekend there was hope that they would step back from the brink. In the corridors Germany seemed to be weakening. But Chirac apparently applied more pressure to Schroeder and by 9 am this morning they applied the veto. As a result NATO now faces an abyss.
Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defence, said in Munich that Franco-German refusal to help an ally was "shameful, truly shameful". He warned "Turkey will not be hurt. The United States and the countries in NATO will go right ahead and do it. What will be hurt will be NATO, not Turkey."
But that of course is all grist to Chirac's mill. The French have always resented the success of the transatlantic alliance and have sought to divide Europe from the power which saved it in the Second World War and protected it throughout the Cold War, the United States. Its hard to know which the most astonishing - the vanity or the irresponsibility of it French misconduct.
Add to that there is a disagreable racist subtext. The French are also campaigning fiercely against allowing Turkey into the European Union. This is another way to try and exclude Turkey from the rich white man's club that France and Germany have always sought to dominate.
Their treachery is likely to increase the appeal of fundamentalist, anti-western Islamic forces in Turkey itself. Why should Turkey attempt to turn itself to wards the West if the West turns its back precisely when Turkey needs help ?
It's hard to believe that that is what France and Germany want - except that their entire policy towards Iraq is counterproductive. They make war with Iraq more not lelikely by their self serving divisions of both the Western alliance and the Security Council.
Why are the inspectors back in Iraq at all, four years after Saddam got rid of them ? Only because of Anglo-American diplomatic and military pressure. It is our sons and daughters who have already been sent to risk their lives to uphold the UN's promise to "restore international peace and security" to the region. And while they are training in deserts which gets hotter every day, the French and the Germans seemed determined every hour to make sure that Saddam will call our bluff. It is not their children who will then suffer from their grandstanding but ours if we finally do have to fight to fulfil the UN's resolutions to disarm him.
The Germans and the French have completely twisted UN Resolution 1441. This unanimous resolution, every word of which was co-written by the French, gave Saddam one "final opportunity" to disarm and threatened "serious consequences" if he did not.
One must repeat - it is for Saddam to give up his weapons and for the inspectors to monitor their destruction. This was what he agreed when he surrendered after the Gulf War in 1991. At that time disarmament was expected to take fifteen days not twelve years and still counting.
The chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, has made it clear that Iraq was still not taking this "final opportunity" to disarm. Last week the US Secretary of Defence, Colin Powell, pointed out that the "the inspectors are not detectives, they are inspectors."
You could have expected Saddam, cunning as ever, to shift the focus and the onus to the inspectors themselves. You would not expect the French and Germans to have bought his hook and sinker as well as his line. But they have. And so instead of persuading Saddam that the game is finally up, and giving strength to those Arab governments that are trying to convince him to leave quietly, the French and the Germans and the Belgians show him that the world, and the Security Council, is completely feckless.
Till now, French and German behaviour threatened the future of the United Nations - because if, in the last resort, the Security Council is unable to enforce its own binding resolutions then the UN will be finished, dead as a dodo. I think that would be a catastrophe. Now they threaten NATO too.
Fortunately their claim to speak for Europe is becoming increasingly ridiculous - which is perhaps why they are behaving in such an irresponsible manner. Eight European Prime Ministers (without consulting Paris and Berlin) have signed a letter of support for the United States on its policy towards Iraq. At the NATO meeting in Munich last weekend, the divisions between what Donald Rumsfeld had provocatively called "old Europe" and the new members from the east was clear. The countries that suffered decades under Soviet domination know better than the pampered leaders of the Elysee what the real world is like.
In this crisis for both NATO and the United Nations, the responsibility lies with Jacques Chirac, a man whose pomposity is rivalled only by his dishonesty, and with the absurd Schroeder, probably the worst leader Germany has had since 1945. Pity Europe, pity Turkey, pity the United Nations, pity NATO, pity Iraq while these childish men strut and pirouette their hour upon the stage.