NEWS

EU tries to avert war

Greece yesterday formally assumed the presidency of the European Union and immediately made clear it would try avert a possible war in Iraq. «We must do all we can to find a peaceful solution,» said Prime Minister Costas Simitis. His foreign minister, George Papandreou, is to visit Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region soon. It is still not clear precisely when. Simitis is trying to get EU members to agree on the need for another UN resolution before war is declared. He said that he has contacted the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Spain, all of whom are currently members of the Security Council. «I assure you, from the contacts that I have had so far, I conclude that it will not be greatly difficult to achieve a common stand on these issues,» he said. «Our wish, our policy, is for there to be no war. The Security Council must deal with the issue again and decide what to do when it has the facts at its disposal,» he told a joint news conference with European Commission President Romano Prodi at Athens’s Zappeion Hall. «I say that war is not and must not be inevitable,» Prodi said. «We must all do whatever we can to find a peaceful solution to the crisis. I hope the EU will be able to contribute to peace, building a more stable, a stronger foreign policy.» The Commission was in Athens for a joint meeting with the Cabinet marking the ceremonial start of the six-month Greek presidency. Athens’s priorities are the completion of the EU’s enlargement, dealing with migration and illegal immigration, helping forge the EU’s future institutions and foreign policy and helping develop economic and social policy. «The priorities of the Greek presidency are our priorities as well,» Prodi said. Many EU countries believe that a US-led war on Iraq can still be prevented. UN arms inspectors are due to present a report on Iraq on Jan. 27. Simitis said there will be «a further process» after that. «We simply have to stick to the process.» Papandreou told reporters separately that he does not plan to visit Baghdad. He would only go «if our partners felt this would be useful,» he said. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, told the French daily Le Monde that he could not see how a war could start without clear evidence that Iraq is building chemical, biological and nuclear arms in violation of United Nations arms resolutions. Meanwhile, the government and President Costis Stephanopoulos yesterday played down the fact that he was not invited to an official concert on Thursday marking the start of the presidency. Both sides said that, according to protocol, heads of state were not invited to such events.