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Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 12:42 GMT
Split EU leaders find Iraq compromise
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (left) with the UK's Jack Straw and France's Dominique de Villepin (right)
Smiles but deep difference remain
European Union leaders have sought to present a united front over how to deal with Iraq by issuing a joint statement saying force should only be used as a "last resort".

But underlying differences threatened to resurface on Tuesday as EU candidate nations prepared to meet after coming under a stinging attack from French President Jacques Chirac for supporting America's stance.

Baghdad should have no illusions

EU statement
The countries, mainly former Soviet-bloc states, will be briefed on the EU's emergency summit, at which leaders agreed on a compromise declaration warning Iraq had a "final opportunity" to resolve the crisis peacefully.

The 15-member EU has been bitterly divided over whether to back the use of force to disarm Iraq or give weapons inspectors more time to complete their task.

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

In other developments:

  • Pope John Paul II is due to hold talks on the crisis with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the Vatican on Tuesday

  • Iraqi officials announce that flights over the country by U-2 surveillance planes - a key UN demand - have begun

  • Allied aircraft bomb an Iraqi air defence position in the southern no-fly zone over Iraq, US Central Command says

  • IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspectors conduct a private interview with an Iraqi scientist

Compromise

The European Union joint declaration placed the onus on Baghdad to "disarm and co-operate immediately and fully", and added that the EU was "committed" to working with the United States on the matter.

The summit had been expected to achieve little more than a papering-over of the EU's cracks, but Greece - which currently holds the EU's revolving presidency - hailed the final statement as a triumph.

"We are united again," said Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou declared.

"The message from this summit is loud and clear - Saddam Hussein must comply and Europe speaks with a united voice. We come away from this summit with flying colours."

(The EU candidate countries) missed a good opportunity to keep quiet

Jacques Chirac
French President
Deep differences remain, however, over the timing of any war, and how much extra time the weapons inspectors should be given.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said afterwards that if Iraq could not be disarmed peacefully "it has to be done by force".

France and Germany, however, said they would still not support any military action, while the French president rebuked the EU's prospective new members for backing America's hardline approach.

"It is not really responsible behaviour," Mr Chirac said.

"They missed a good opportunity to keep quiet," he said, alluding to the recent signing by seven of the 10 would-be members of a letter supporting the US.

Also on Monday, the inspectors conducted a private interview with an Iraqi scientist.

"The IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] held a private interview with a senior engineer connected with Iraq's procurement history related to 81mm aluminium tubes," said Hiro Ueki, a UN spokesman in Baghdad.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
Blair: Strong signal to Iraq

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

But the momentum towards war may have been slowed by the millions of people who marched in anti-war protests at the weekend.

France and Germany's anti-war stance is shared by Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Austria, Greece, Ireland and Luxembourg.

On the other side, Britain, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Portugal and the Netherlands have backed the United States' tough stance.

Many of those 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
The BBC's Janet Barrie
"Tony Blair thinks time is running out"
Chris Patten, EU commissioner for external relations
"It is going to be difficult to get people together on every issue"

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

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