Greece calls EU summit

As the rift between the United States and many European countries threatened to rocket out of control, dividing both NATO and the EU, Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday called an extraordinary summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Monday. Greece holds the EU’s rotating presidency and has been battling to get the Union to present a common front. «We will make every effort for Europe to speak with one voice. Because we believe that it is necessary for it to have a common position in order to be able to influence events,» Simitis said in a joint news conference with visiting Swiss President Pascal Couchepin. «I hope that on Monday there will at least be some thoughts that will lead to a common position on some issues. We will make the effort.» The summit will be preceded by an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers, Foreign Minister George Papandreou said after a meeting with Simitis and the prime minister’s foreign policy aides. Foreign Ministry spokesman Panayiotis Beglitis called for calm from both sides of the Atlantic. «No one can deny there is a crisis in transatlantic relations,» he said. «We believe that at this difficult time cool heads should prevail on both sides. This crisis is to the detriment of the European Union and the United States. We, the EU’s Greek presidency, are making every effort to bridge the different approaches, for the good of international and regional stability.» Simitis proposed the summit after a telephone call with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, which suggested that Germany had agreed to the summit – as Schroeder had indicated when the idea was first mooted last week. Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel and European Parliament President Pat Cox had urged Athens to call a summit meeting. Government spokesman Christos Protopappas noted that the summit will be informal, which means that it will not have to result in a written conclusion. This will make things easier for Athens, because the presidency will then be called on only to present some basic conclusions of the meeting, whether this be the description of an agreement among the 15 or confirmation of the rift between the Franco-German axis and the countries most outspoken in their support of the United States – Britain, Italy, Spain, Denmark and Portugal. Monday’s summit will discuss the report to the UN Security Council on Friday by chief arms inspector Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) President Mohamed ElBaradei. Papandreou spoke with the two by telephone yesterday during their stopover at Athens airport on their way from Iraq to New York. Papandreou said that from the statements of the two, before they reached Athens, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was beginning to understand the seriousness of the situation. «There seems to be some light in this whole issue. Of course, we will have to wait for the report by Blix and ElBaradei,» Papandreou said. He met yesterday with his Austrian counterpart, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and the two compared notes of their tours of Arab countries. Papandreou last week visited Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, while Ferrero-Waldner visited Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Papandreou said Athens had been in touch with its EU partners on the summit. «We expect them all to be there,» he said. «We believe that they will all agree. We have some ideas after our recent informal contacts.»