EU ponders Iraq course

Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday discussed Iraq with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and is to meet with Foreign Minister George Papandreou on Monday to decide what steps Greece, which holds the EU presidency, will take on the issue. Germany, along with France, has shown the greatest reservations in Europe to the United States’ warnings that it will lead a war against Iraq unless Saddam Hussein heeds UN demands and gives up weapons of mass destruction that he is believed to be hiding. Athens is trying to forge a joint EU position. Government spokesman Christos Protopappas did not divulge what Simitis and Schroeder had discussed, other than that they had evaluated the situation since US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation of US evidence against Iraq at the Security Council on Wednesday. Protopappas said that Simitis had spoken also with the prime ministers of Luxembourg, Britain, Italy, Portugal and Sweden. Papandreou visited Syria, Jordan and Lebanon this week. He attended Powell’s speech at the UN and then flew to Cairo, where he met with his Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Maher, and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa. «The issue of calling an extraordinary EU summit, as well as the possibility of an extraordinary General Affairs Council (whether with broader participation or not), are two things that are being discussed. The final decisions will be taken after Monday,» Protopappas said of Simitis’s scheduled meeting with Papandreou. Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel on Thursday urged Papandreou to convene an emergency meeting on Iraq comprising representatives of the 15 EU members, 13 candidate members and Iraq’s neighbors. Yesterday, European Parliament President Pat Cox also called for Greece to summon an EU summit and «mount a last-ditch effort» to get Saddam to comply with the UN’s demands. «I don’t want to get into any ideas we may have because I think they will come as we see new developments,» Papandreou said in Cairo when asked about proposals for a meeting between EU members and Iraq’s neighbors and the possibility of sending a joint EU-Arab League delegation to Baghdad. He noted that chief arms inspector Hans Blix is to visit Baghdad today. «That will give us a clear picture of how much work we need to do to get a message across.»