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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 May, 2003, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
EU plays down Iraq force divisions
US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld (left) and US military commander General Tommy Franks
The US is unlikely to seek UN backing for the force

US plans to create a multinational stabilisation force in Iraq will not divide the European Union, according to the organisation's Greek presidency.

One proposal envisages Iraq divided into three sectors - to be commanded by the United States, Britain and Poland - with troops from at least seven other European countries also involved.

The EU was bitterly divided over the war in Iraq, with France and Germany in particular refusing to sanction military action by US and Britain.

Some of the anti-war countries are opposed to setting up any new force in Iraq without a clear United Nations mandate.

But Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou insisted: "We have in no way felt this as an issue to divide us.

"Our overriding concern should be what we can do now for Iraq.

"At the same time, we must prepare for later involvement as and when political and legal conditions permit.

'Unnecessary confrontation'

He was speaking after two days of informal talks between foreign ministers of the EU's 15 members and the 10 countries - including Poland - that will enter the organisation next year.

At the talks, held on the Greek island of Kastellorizo, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told reporters that no final decision had been made on the deployment of a multinational force to stabilise Iraq.

However, he added, it was clear that several current and future EU member states would take part.

In a BBC interview, Mr Straw said: "What we want is a self-confident common foreign and security policy within Europe. That will obviously if we have it enhance our relationship wth the United States.

"But we have to work as an effective and positive partner with the United States and aim to minimise and explain differences rather than seeking unnecessary confrontation."

His Polish counterpart, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, said it was hoped that troops from several countries, including Poland, would be on the ground by the end of this month.

But he added: "It depends on many conditions - legal conditions, financial conditions, organisational."


A Bush administration official said the proposed stabilisation force in Iraq would be under the overall control of General Tommy Franks, the commander of US forces in Iraq.

France, Germany and Russia - which also vehemently opposed the war - will not take part, the official was quoted as saying.

The three countries were excluded from an initial planning conference which took place in London on Wednesday.

Follow-up meetings will be held later this month.

The disclosure of the plans came after US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Iraq was not yet "a fully secure, fully pacified environment".

Speaking in the UK following talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mr Rumsfeld said it was "not knowable" how long US troops would have to stay in Iraq.

There have been almost daily protests in Iraq against the presence of American troops in the country since US-led forces defeated the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein last month.

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