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Europe

EU Unified in Call for Additional Inspections

The European Union's 15 foreign ministers are supporting a call for additional weapons inspections in Iraq, and Germany's key opposition parties are asking for more time as well.

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Muhammad El Baradi and Hans Blix say giving more time to inspectors would be a "valuable investment in peace."

The foreign ministers of the European Union, whose leaders have staked out starkly contrasting positions on a potential war against Saddam Hussein, agreed on Monday that U.N. inspectors need more time to continue their hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

"The inspectors must be given the necessary time that they need," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said after the meeting in Brussels. Fischer and the ministers were backed up by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in a speech he planned to give Monday night.

The 15 ministers met hours before the inspectors, led by Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, were to issue their first report to the U.N. Security Council, a report that many feared would serve as a reason for the United States to unleash the force it has massed around the Persian Gulf.

In the report, Blix told the Security Council that while Baghdad was cooperating on access, it needed to do more on substance. "Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament that was demanded of it," Blix said at the beginning of a crucial assessment on 60 days of weapons inspections.

Annan wants additional inspections, too

Like the EU ministers, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday that inspectors should be given more time to do their jobs.

The Europeans, meanwhile, stressed that their goal was the total disarmament of Iraq. "The reason for the disarmament is to avoid the chance of getting involved in a war," Fischer said.

In the months-long debate over the potential war, EU members have taken opposite positions on the issue. Schröder campaigned for re-election last summer on a pledge that his country's forces would not fight in such a conflict. Schröder stepped up his opposition last week when he pledged that Germany would vote against any U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing a war.

Britain, on the other hand, is ready to join U.S. forces in battle. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said over the weekend that a war could begin if the inspectors reported that Iraq was not co-operating, even if one of the Security Council's permanent members vetoed a resolution on the issue.

Unity of ministers stressed

But Spain's foreign minister, Ana Palacio, said the ministers' decision disproved reports "that the Europeans were fighting over the issue."

Members of Germany's opposition parties also joined the call on Monday for the inspectors to get more time. "This is the hour of diplomacy and not military action," said Edmund Stoiber, who led the ticket of the opposition Union parties during last fall's election.

But other members of the opposition continued to express their displeasure about Schröder's decision to vote against any Security Council resolution on the matter before the inspectors' report was released.

"If everyone had acted this way, the chance of avoiding a war would have been smaller. Therefore, the German approach did not serve peace, but endangered it," said Wolfgang Schäuble, a former chairman of the country's largest opposition party, the Christian Democratic Union.