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Europe

New Iraq Resolution Gets Cautious Nod from EU

Germany and France offer cautiously optimistic reactions to a new Washington-penned Iraq resolution at a foreign minister meeting in Luxembourg.

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The new US resolution aims to put power into Iraqi hands sooner rather than later.

European foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg late Monday night cautiously greeted a new Iraq resolution presented to the United Nations Security Council in New York.

After making a phone call to his American counterpart, Secretary of State Colin Powell, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Germany was prepared to work with Washington on the resolution.

"Without a doubt, it is a step further in the right direction," Fischer said. "And we are working to make further progress together."

Earlier in the day, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said the resolution showed "progress," but still required in-depth discussions. On Tuesday, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said France was reading the resolution's fine print to see if it would "create conditions for a real improvement of the situation in Iraq." He also said France would not veto the resolution and that the only decision left to make is whether or not to back it.

The draft, co-sponsored by Britain and Spain, marks Washington’s third effort since August to pass a resolution aimed at building broader international support for the reconstruction of Iraq. The resolution stipulates that the Iraq's governing council set a timetable for drafting a new constitution and holding elections by Dec. 15. The elections would signal that Iraq taking control of its political destiny from the coalition forces.

Vote expected by week's end

Germany, France and Russia blocked previous resolution drafts because they did not lay out a plan for handing over power or provide the U.N. with the leading role in Iraq they demanded. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he believed a vote on the new resolution would be possible by the end of the week.

European diplomats are keen to reach an agreement on the resolution before next week’s Iraq donor conference in Madrid because it would improve the atmosphere and possibly spur needed contributions, EU officials who did not wish to be named told Deutsche Welle. On Monday night, the EU foreign ministers confirmed that Brussels would pledge €200 million ($234 million) at the conference. The money would be disbursed through the end of 2004.

Financial pressure

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."

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.

Progress on draft constitution

In a separate area of debate in Luxembourg, Germany's Fischer said progress had been made in negotiations over the EU’s draft constitution. He said it was likely some of the disputed issues could be tackled by the end of the rotating Italian EU presidency. One issue where unity has allegedly been found is in the merging of the current positions of high representative of foreign affairs and the external relations commissioner into a single foreign minister post.

Germany’s Fischer, once a favorite for the foreign minister post, said talks about the foreign minister had intensified. "In the end we’ll have to do a little more fine-tuning, but all-in-all, things are moving in the right direction."

In other areas, the gulf in opinions remains broad. Just 10 days ago, at the opening of the EU Intergovernmental Conference in Rome, the EU’s smaller and medium-sized member states squared off against larger countries over the allocation of seats on the European Commission.

The majority of smaller member states, including the accession states slated to join in 2004, are demanding a commissioner for each country, which would increase the body from the current 20 seats to 25. But the larger states, including Germany and France, want to reduce the number of seats to 15 in order to make a more effective Commission.

Fischer said Germany and other larger member states had already compromised by giving up a second commissioner from each member state at an EU conference in Nice three years ago. However, he said, "you still have to see, that (the commissioner seats) have a strong symbolic meaning, especially for the smaller states."

Work in progress

At the same time, Fischer warned on Monday against writing too many laws into the constitution in order to avoid the need to make frequent changes to a document whose drafting has presented a raft of political challenges and difficult compromises.

Though Fischer remained generally optimistic about the constitution, he said it was likely the pricklier issues – like the size of the Commission or the weighting of member state votes – would not be wrangled with until the EU summit in Rome in mid-December.

"There are going to be difficult issues that remain until the end," Fischer said. "At the same time, the heads of state and government should have something left to resolve then."

With reporting by Deutsche Welle correspondent Berndt Riegert in Luxembourg.

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