Greece urges EU to unite over Iraq or lose its influence

LONDON (Reuters) – Greece, current holder of the European Union presidency, urged bitterly divided European nations late on Tuesday to present a united front on the Iraq crisis or risk diminishing the EU’s influence on the world stage. With key European nations lined up on opposite sides of the debate on a possible Iraq war, Greek Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said the outcome would determine Europe’s role in the world for years to come – both in terms of defense and diplomacy. «If Europe wishes to exert a significant influence on the course of world events, it must speak and act in unison now. If we act separately, then our influence is diminished very dramatically,» Papantoniou said in the speech at the London School of Economics. «The outcome of this process (toward Iraq in the next few weeks), which will test European cohesion, will determine the future of European political and defense unification,» he added. Heavyweight European nations are divided over Iraq, with Britain and Spain pushing for a second UN Security Council resolution authorizing military action to disarm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Germany and France fiercely oppose the use of force and say UN weapons inspectors must be given more time to try to disarm Iraq peacefully. Papantoniou insisted any use of force against Iraq should have UN backing, otherwise it would set a dangerous precedent for «some other country… (to) engage in a purely aggressive war pretending that its war is preventive.» «It is very dangerous to go to war without the backing of world public opinion. After all, we are democracies and in democracies the people and people’s views always must prevail,» he said. The European Union should bridge its rift with the USA and avert war, he said.

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