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EU Finds Common Ground on Iraq

As a historic summit in Athens on the expansion of the European Union winds down, leaders issue a joint statement calling for a "central" United Nations role in the reconstruction of Iraq.


The Acropolis: Cradle of Greek democracy and the New Europe

Leaders of the European Union on Thursday issued a statement calling for a "central role" for the United Nations in the rebuilding of Iraq and demanding that American troops move quickly to restore security in the war-torn Persian Gulf region.

Anti-Kriegsdemonstration in Athen

Protester in Athens

The statement came amidst protests across the Greek capital attended by thousands of demonstrators. More than 10,000 police sought to maintain order, but violence – including Molotav cocktail attacks – led to the arrest of at least 106. Five people were injured.

But the protests failed to detract attention from the developments inside the summit, where attention focused on the EU's imminent expansion and the difficult work of bringing Iraq -- which has languished under 12 years of U.N. sanctions and the crippling leadership of dictator Saddam Hussein -- back on to the international stage.

"The U.N. must play a central role, including in the process leading towards self-government for the Iraqi people, utilizing its unique capacity and experience in post-conflict nation building," the statement, released by the EU's Greek presidency, said. Greece, which currently holds the six-month rotating EU presidency and is hosting the summit, originally intended to release the text on Wednesday -- but negotiations over the language with member states continued into the night. The statement was drafted by Britain, Germany, France and Spain – countries that until several days ago were at loggerheads over the war in Iraq.

Jack Straw bei der NATO

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw

"What we are doing is talking about the new Iraq," said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (photo, right). "We are trying to put behind us the argument about whether or not the coalition should have taken military action."

But the statement also admonished the coalition leading the war in Iraq, urging it to put a stop to the mass looting and crime that has ravaged Iraq and dominated media coverage in recent days– from the plundering of Baghdad's historical treasures to the ransacking of government offices. The EU statement urged the forces to clamp down and restore order. "At this stage, the coalition has the responsibility to ensure a secure environment, including for the provision of humanitarian assistance and the protection of the cultural heritage and museums."

Pragmatic questions

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (photo) greeted the show of unity on Thursday, but also warned that the U.N. Security Council must now act quickly to assume its postwar role. "A number of pragmatic questions have been raised that need to be addressed at the level of the U.N. Security Council," he said on Thursday at the close of the summit. He said a number of decisions must be made "under the umbrella of the United Nations."

Fischer also admonished U.S. and British-led forces in Iraq to restore peace and civil order in order to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian relief, but he also called on the U.N. to act quickly. "The U.N. has to play a central role – also in the development of an independent government of the Iraqi people."

Lifting sanctions

Though the issue of lifting U.N. sanctions against Iraq was a prominent theme at the summit, there was no specific mention of it in the statement. On Wednesday, U.S. President George W. Bush called on the United Nations to waive sanctions against Iraq. But on Thursday, European leaders hinted they might not do so as quickly as Washington might be expecting. The hitch is that the U.N. currently controls Iraqi oil sales, and suspension of sanctions would put into question who manages the country's oil resources.

European leaders welcomed the idea of eventually lifting the sanctions, but, according to Reuters used terms like "conditions" and "modalities" to describe the circumstances of suspending them. After meeting with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, French President Jacques Chirac signaled his support for lifting sanctions, saying: "Now it is up to the United Nations to define the modalities of the lifting of sanctions."

At least two EU members – Denmark and The Netherlands – said they were considering offering peacekeeping troops for an Iraq mission. The statements came just as the U.S. sent a request to Denmark to build a 3,000-strong international security force to help maintain order in Iraq as it is rebuilt.

European leaders also called for the implementation of the "road map" for peace in Israel and areas controlled by the Palestinian Authorities created by the so-called Middle East Quartet, made up of the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations.

New Europe meets its neighbors

On Wednesday, 10 mostly Eastern European countries signed the treaty of accession, paving the way for their EU membership starting in 2004. The move marks the greatest expansion in the EU's history, from its modest beginnings with six members in 1951 as the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 to what will be a union with a population of over 450 million next year.

One day later, more than 40 European countries met in Athens to discuss the geopolitical implications for the region and increase cooperative efforts. However, many of the key leaders who attended the historical treaty signing in Athens had already departed by Thursday, including German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

In addition to the current 15 EU members and 10 accession states, all three candidate countries – Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria – took place in the meeting along with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, the Ukraine, Russia, Moldavia, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland.

The declaration

The following is the full-text of the EU declaration:

"The European Union welcomes the presence of the United Nations secretary general and the opportunity to discuss with him the next steps on Iraq.

"At this stage the coalition has the responsibility to ensure a secure environment, including for the provision of humanitarian assistance and the protection of the cultural heritage and museums.

"The people of Iraq now have the chance to shape a new future for their country and to rejoin the international community.

"The international community has a major contribution to make in that process, in particular:

· The U.N. must play a central role including in the process leading toward self-government for the Iraqi people, enlisting its unique capacity and experience in post-conflict union building

· Iraq's neighbors should support stability in Iraq and the region

· The EU reaffirms its commitments to play a significant role in the political and economic reconstruction of the country

· The EU welcomes the participation of the international financial institutions as set out in the recent statement by the G7 at the World Bank meeting in Washington

"The EU welcomes the appointment by the U.N. secretary general of a special adviser on Iraq and looks forward to a further strengthening of the U.N.'s involvement in post-conflict Iraq, initially in the coordination of the humanitarian assistance.

"As part of the process of regional security and stability the EU reaffirms its commitments to bring the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to a successful conclusion through the implementation of the steps foreseen in the Quartet's [EU, US, UN and Russia] roadmap, keeping within established timelines.

"It is essential that there is an early endorsement by Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Legislative Council of a cabinet nominated by Abu Mazen and committed to reform."

Compiled with Deutsche Welle sources and information from wire services.

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