NEWS

EU nations propose Iraq peacekeepers

Several European leaders suggested yesterday they may send troops to help stabilize Iraq, as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was reportedly making progress in sorting out his organization’s postwar role. The leaders of Denmark, the Netherlands and Spain – three backers of the US-led war – spoke of the need to quickly stabilize Iraq. «There is a desperate need for stabilization forces in Iraq, here and now,» said Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. «We cannot wait for a UN resolution.» At separate briefings to reporters, Fogh Rasmussen and Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said their governments were considering sending troops but that it was to early to say when that would happen. «We are looking into it,» Balkenende said. «We have to think about the new situation.» Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said any deployment of European peacekeepers would have to be coordinated with US and British troops in Iraq. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a key European supporter of the US position on Iraq, said he had spoken by phone with Syrian President Bashar Assad following US allegations that Syria was harboring ousted Iraqi officials and developing chemical weapons. He did not provide details of the conversation but said efforts to ease tensions between Washington and Damascus were going well. «Syria is not a military objective for anybody,» Aznar said, and added he will send his foreign minister to Syria on Saturday. On the margins of a European Union summit, at which Cyprus, Malta and eight East European nations signed their EU accession treaties, Annan held a fast-paced series of meetings on Iraq. After a 40-minute meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, he said he was «confident that the UN will play an important role and, as we move ahead in the next few weeks, I expect that role to become much clearer.» Blair spoke of UN involvement «not simply in respect of humanitarian issues, but also political and reconstruction issues that arise.» Annan held meetings with the leaders of Spain, Germany, Belgium, Ireland, France as well as Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Annan planned to have a meeting later yesterday with the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russia, Spain and Britain – all countries with seats on the Security Council. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said he saw «a rapprochement» with the United States over the UN role in Iraq. In recent days, Germany and France have moderated their opposition to US plans to install an interim government in Baghdad. Others agreed that it would still leave the UN with a significant role in rebuilding. «The United Nations should play a vital role in the reconstruction of Iraq,» Fogh Rasmussen said. The summit was Blair’s first opportunity to restore bridges with all his European partners. They were riven in a dispute over going to war against Iraq. Blair said postwar Iraq requires a government that «needs to be seen as representative, both by the Iraqi people and the international community… I would like to see the United States, ourselves and Europe working in partnership together and I think that is possible,» Blair said. «That good will exists.»