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Monday, 17 February, 2003, 20:13 GMT
EU struggles for unity on Iraq
French President Jacques Chirac
Chirac: "War is always the worst solution"
France will oppose any early move towards military action against Iraq, President Jacques Chirac has said as European Union leaders meet to try to hammer out a consensus on the issue.

Mr Chirac said that there was no need for a fresh Security Council resolution on Iraq while weapons inspections continued.

His statement contrasted sharply with that of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said that if Saddam Hussein does not disarm peacefully, he must be disarmed by force.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
At some stage the Council may decide that we are wasting our time and we should call a halt to the inspections - but at the moment they do continue

Kofi Annan
UN Secretary General

The gulf between the two leaders underlined what a difficult goal the EU has set for itself at an emergency meeting of its leaders - formulating a common policy after weeks of highly public differences of opinion.

But the BBC's Chris Morris in Brussels says the disagreement is more about tactics and timing than substance.

Speaking in Brussels after meeting the EU leaders, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said that it was up to the Security Council to decide if Iraq was complying with Resolution 1441, which demands that Saddam Hussein disarm.

If the Security Council decided that Iraq was in material breach of the resolution, it could decide "on its own responsibility" how to proceed, he said.

But he emphasised that the Council had not yet declared Iraq in material breach.

He urged Iraq to disarm "proactively and immediately".

As Mr Annan was speaking, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry announced that U-2 surveillance flights over the country had begun, a key demand of the United Nations.

'No deadline'

"There is not a fixed deadline in the resolution but at some stage the Council may decide that we are wasting our time and we should call a halt to the inspections - but at the moment they do continue," Mr Annan said.

Protesters in front of a replica of a Picasso anti-war painting in Barcelona
Europe saw huge anti-war protests at the weekend
He called on the international community to reach a consensus on Iraq, adding that if the Security Council could resolve the situation, its legitimacy would be enhanced.

The UK and United States have begun to draft a new United Nations resolution specifically authorising the use of force against Iraq.

But the hawks are facing an uphill struggle after millions of people marched in European anti-war protests at the weekend.

Turkish reluctance

Turkey, meanwhile, is delaying a decision on allowing United States troops to use the country as a base to open a northern front in a possible war with Iraq.

Ankara's decision to commit itself only after it agrees a compensation package with the US comes a day after Nato overcame a damaging split over defending the country.

US tanks in Kuwait
Turkey is not ready to accept US troops
On Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said Ankara and Washington needed to clarify the political, economic and military aspects of any deployment of US troops in Turkey.

It would otherwise be difficult to convince parliament to approve the deployment, he said, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The US is hoping that Ankara will allow at least one army division to be stationed there in the run-up to possible military action.

Turkish public opinion is overwhelmingly opposed to any war with Iraq.

Open in new window : Clickable Map
Conflict with Iraq : Where Europe stands

France, Germany and Greece - which currently holds the presidency of the EU - have infuriated the US with their warnings against war.

On the other side, Britain, Spain and Italy are among the chief backers of the United States' tough stance against Saddam Hussein, who has been ordered by the United Nations to disarm.

Those three nations saw some of the largest anti-war protests during a global day of action on Saturday. More than one million people marched in each of London, Barcelona and Rome, calling on their leaders not to back an invasion.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Mark Mardell reports
"Jacques Chirac has dropped a minor bombshell"
Herve Mariton, French MP
"What President Chirac expresses is the vision France has of the international situation"

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EU meeting
Can rift over Iraq be healed?
See also:

17 Feb 03 | Middle East
17 Feb 03 | Middle East
17 Feb 03 | Middle East
16 Feb 03 | Americas
17 Feb 03 | Europe
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