EU stalls on sanctions

European leaders in principle backed US calls to lift international sanctions on Iraq yesterday in Athens, but warned that complex legal work was needed first as they pushed for the United Nations to play a «central role» in stabilizing the country. «Lifting the sanctions is an objective that we have backed for a long time,» said French President Jacques Chirac. «Naturally it’s up to the UN to define how.» Wrapping up a two-day summit, European Union leaders overcame months of bitter division over Iraq by agreeing on a united position on postwar measures. «The UN must play a central role, including in the process leading toward self-government for the Iraqi people, utilizing its unique capacity and experience in post-conflict nation building,» issued by EU president Greece. Symbolically, the text was drafted jointly by France and Germany, who led the EU’s anti-war camp, and by Britain and Spain, who backed the US-led invasion of Iraq. Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio said the four were also working closely with fellow UN Security Council member Russia to produce a series of draft UN resolutions on how to get Iraq back on its feet. They also met with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. «There won’t be just one resolution, but a series of specific resolutions,» she told reporters, confirming that lifting sanctions was one of the issues they are working on. «It means nothing to keep sanctions on the Iraq people,» Palacio told reporters. «We should address this issue as soon as possible and we should reach a consensus as soon as possible.» EU diplomats confirmed concerns expressed by officials at UN headquarters in New York, that lifting the sanctions could be long and difficult, despite US urging that they should be removed as early as next week. Lifting sanctions is linked to UN certification that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction have been destroyed. European officials cautioned that simply removing the restrictions risked undermining the UN’s remaining influence over Iraq developments and that lifting them should be accompanied by new resolutions defining the organization’s postwar role. With the US-led coalition now in control of almost all of Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s government toppled, US President George W. Bush is quickly urging the United Nations to lift sanctions that have choked Iraq’s economy for nearly 13 years since the last Gulf War. While broadly backing the idea in principle, the Europeans are simultaneously urging the United States to drop its objections to a leading UN role that goes beyond humanitarian aid to help rebuild the economic infrastructure and political institutions. The Europeans suggested a gradual increase in the UN’s role while the immediate problems of restoring law and order are tackled by coalition forces. Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland and the three Baltic states said they may send troops to help the United States and Britain restore order. Italy has already agreed to dispatch military police and Spain and Portugal did not rule out a deployment. Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are due to join the EU on May 1, 2004, along with Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus. All 10 signed their membership treaties on the first day of the summit Wednesday and endorsed the EU’s statement on Iraq. Even more leaders and ministers of European nations joined the meeting yesterday from Iceland to Russia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as the EU reached out to its wider neighbors. The Europeans also turned to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, urging all sides to stick to the «road map» agreed upon last year by the EU, United States, Russia and United Nations that foresees the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005. They also asked Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to give «early endorsement» to a cabinet being put together by his new prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas.