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Europe

EU Diplomats Mull Iraq Resolution, Reconstruction Funds

European Foreign Ministers meeting in Luxembourg Monday debate the amount the EU should contribute to Iraq reconstruction and French foreign minister says new Iraq resolution shows “progress.”

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Luxembourg: Crisis talks in an idyllic setting.

The European Union is expected to pledge €200 million ($234 million) between now and the end of 2004 at next week’s Iraq donor conference in Madrid. But at a meeting of European foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday, Europe’s top diplomats debated whether that sum would be enough.

With a view to Germany’s current budget problems and pressure from Brussels to adhere to the strict deficit rules laid out in the Maastricht Treat’s Stability and Growth Pact, few expect that figure to increase.

"You all know our financial condition and the pressure that the European Union is putting on France and Germany," Fischer told the foreign ministers. "In that respect we need to remain realistic."

Criticism from London

But the EU's donor austerity angered some, including British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, whose country has been Washington’s closest ally during the Iraq war. Straw said he considered the EU’s contribution to the Iraq reconstruction effort to be too small. Britain has said it will contribute €780 million to Iraqi security and reconstruction efforts during the next three years.

"We are going to make a substantial contribution, and we want others to make a substantial contribution," a British official told the news agency Reuters.

American politicians have also criticized the EU’s planned contribution – especially in light of the €56 billion in reconstruction costs the World Bank recently estimated for Iraq.

But in a statement, the ministers in Luxembourg offered their backing for the European Commission’s aid pledge.

New Iraq resolution

Fischer, who on Sunday spoke by telephone with his American counterpart, Colin Powell, said he received no such criticism from the Secretary of State. During the conversation, Powell discussed the details of the latest version of the Iraq Resolution that the U.S., Britain and Spain plan to introduce in the Security Council.

Though officials released few details Monday evening about the new resolution, French Foreign Minister Jacques de Villepin greeted the text as "progress" in the dispute between the U.S. and France, before saying Paris would have to study it further.

Germany’s Fischer, meanwhile, said his country was "going to work with the new U.S. draft," but that it was still "too soon for us to make any judgement."

France, Germany and Russia together have blocked previous U.S. attempts to pass the Iraq resolution because they said they did not go far enough in establishing a broader U.N. mandate or setting up sovereign rule in Iraq.

Among the German and French demands is a concrete timetable that would put Iraq’s governance back in the hands of Iraqis in the shortest reasonable timeframe. In addition, the EU has called for the appointment of an independent trustee, and not the U.S., to manage the international aid fund.

‘Alarm’ over Middle East crisis

Meanwhile, the foreign ministers also expressed growing concern about escalating violence between the Israelis and Palestinians.

"The situation is very alarming," Fischer said. "The terror must stop. On the once side we have huge concerns about the construction of the wall and the additional territorial loss that it represents. The facts that are being created on the ground stand in contradiction to the ‘Road Map’. At the same time, the instability on the Palestinian side is something that many of my colleagues here are also concerned about."

He said the EU would seek to help with efforts to stabilize the situation.

With reporting by Deutsche Welle correspondent Berndt Riegert in Luxembourg.