NEWS

EU papers over differences

BRUSSELS – The 15 EU countries agreed yesterday, in a rather indirect way, that they would like UN arms inspections of Iraq to continue. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, as chairman of the General Affairs Council, said he was prepared to visit Baghdad as representative of the 15 EU states if they decide this. The joint position of the Europeans was agreed upon at an earlier meeting of the ministers of Britain, France, Germany and Spain, all of whom are presently on the UN Security Council. Papandreou also attended. But a sign of how divided the Europeans remain on US policy is that, on the one hand, the wish for a continuation of the inspections was expressed in the most opaque and indirect way, and, on the other, the 15 could not agree on whether it was necessary for a second resolution by the Security Council before hostilities could begin. «The (EU) Council fully supports the efforts of the UN to ensure full and immediate compliance by Iraq with all relevant resolutions of the Security Council, in particular with UNSCR 1441 of 8 November 2002. The resolution gives an unambiguous message that the Iraqi government has a final opportunity to resolve the crisis peacefully,» the ministers said. «The Council, therefore, urges the Iraqi authorities to engage in full and active cooperation with UNMOVIC (the arms inspectors) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Iraqi authorities must, as an imperative, provide the inspectors, without delay, with all additional and complete information on questions raised by the international community.» It ended with: «The responsibility of the UNSC in maintaining international peace and security must be respected.» The initial objective was for the Council to take a clearer stand in demanding an extension of the inspections. But, faced mainly with Britain’s objections, it arrived at this delicately worded conclusion. This was the lowest common denominator of what the 15 could agree on while divided into two main camps. The one camp – led by Britain and including the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain and Italy – stands squarely behind the United States in its preference for the shortest path toward dealing with Saddam Hussein. The second is led by Germany and France, with the support to some extent of the smaller countries – who want the greatest possible legitimacy through the UN for any operation.