NEWS

‘Eight’ shake EU’s bid for unity

Athens was stunned yesterday by the open letter by eight European heads of government pledging allegiance to the United States in its campaign against Iraq. Not only was Greece, the current president of the EU, not informed of this but it also suffered a blow to its efforts to forge a common EU front on the issue. Athens had been pleased by the consensus reached among the 15 foreign ministers at the General Affairs Council on Monday which called for UN arms inspections in Iraq to continue without specifying how long this should take. Simitis spoke by telephone with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Wednesday but neither told him of the letter which was sent to 12 major international newspapers. The Greek EU presidency learned the news from Hungary’s Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, who signed the letter and whose country is not yet in the EU. Greek officials were initially cautious in commenting on the letter by the leaders of Britain, Italy, Spain, Denmark and Portugal and candidates Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. But later, Simitis issued a statement that barely hid his anger and disappointment. «The way in which the initiative of the five EU members and three candidate countries came about did not contribute to a common stand on the issue. The EU is trying to forge a joint foreign policy. Therefore, there should be consultation on the issue of Iraq as well, just as took place at the General Affairs Council on Monday. The presidency will continue to strive for a joint position,» he said. Foreign Minister George Papandreou, on a visit to Ankara, said, «The way in which the eight countries acted is outside EU procedures and creates possibilities for misunderstandings.» He said that it had to be made clear that the EU wanted Iraq’s disarmament and supported the efforts of the UN arms inspectors. Earlier, Foreign Ministry spokesman Panayiotis Beglitis confirmed that Greece had not been informed of the letter and that Simitis had learned of it from his visiting Hungarian counterpart. «We all share the same aims,» he said. In a statement to schoolchildren, Archbishop Christodoulos spoke out against the possibility of war. «None of the mighty care for dialogue, and human existence loses its value in the face of the interests of the military industries and arms programs,» he said. Meanwhile, in an interview with Kathimerini’s Petros Papaconstantinou, Hungarian PM Medgyessy explained how the letter of the eight had come about. «The British approached me and I must say that I thought hard about whether I should sign,» he said. «Under no circumstances did I want there to be the impression that the difference between the two opinions (on Iraq) is widening. I asked for certain amendments to the initial text, amendments that were accepted by the British but also by the Spaniards, as Jose-Maria Aznar had signed up by then. These changes were aimed at strengthening the position that Europe has to be united on this issue and that it was not right to leave America on its own, as this served neither America nor Europe. I also insisted that Security Council Resolution 1441 had to be enforced, that a peaceful solution had to be pursued but also that the presence of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Iraq, an unpredictable regime, carries real dangers. Afterward, other countries signed on – Portugal, Denmark, Poland and the Czech Republic.»