Originally created 02/19/03

European nations give Iraq one last chance to disarm



BRUSSELS, Belgium -- "Old" and "new" Europe united Tuesday behind a declaration warning Iraq it has one last chance to disarm, papering over an acrimonious dispute that has set back the continent's push for a single voice in world affairs.

Far from the thunderous unity they sought, Europe's quest for a common foreign policy was undermined by France's stinging reproach of eastern European nations that earlier backed Washington's threat of military action against Iraq.

The joint declaration agreed by the 15 European Union members Monday night and endorsed Tuesday by 13 future EU members warns Iraq it must disarm "fully and completely."

They agreed to give U.N. weapons inspectors more time, but set no deadlines and asserted "war is not inevitable," a concession to France and Germany, which have long sought a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

"We had extensive, very effective and constructive consultations and we have reached an agreement" on the EU summit declaration, said Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

But a tirade by French President Jacques Chirac against future EU members demonstrated the limits of the declaration in achieving a united front.

Chirac was angered that some of the new members had backed Washington's pro-war language on Iraq in two recent letters written without full EU consultation. The texts revealed a divide within Europe between the Franco-German camp, which favors a peaceful resolution, and those backing the U.S. threat of force - prompting Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to famously dub France and Germany, "Old Europe."

"It is not really responsible behavior," Chirac told reporters Monday just after the EU issued its declaration on Iraq. "It is not well brought-up behavior. They missed a good opportunity to keep quiet."

He warned the candidates their position could be "dangerous" because the parliaments of the 15 EU nations still have to ratify last December's decision for 10 new members to join the bloc on May 1, 2004. He singled out Romania and Bulgaria, which are still negotiating to enter the bloc in 2007.

Britain and Germany defended the future members' right to express their own opinions - a blow to French aspirations to be one of the primary architects of European foreign policy.

"They have as much right to speak up as Great Britain or France or any other member of the European Union today," British Prime Minister Tony Blair told reporters in London. "They know the value of Europe and America sticking together."

In an unusual move, Blair also sent a letter to the candidate countries reporting his views on the summit declaration - a role usually reserved for the EU presidency.

"This is a defining moment for the multilateral system. It calls for unity and unwavering determination on the part of the international community and, in particular, for solidarity between Europe and the United States," Blair said in the letter.

He also made clear his disagreement with the Greek presidency's decision excluding the new members from the emergency summit on Monday when leaders debated a common approach.

"How we in Europe handle this crisis will have profound implications for EU-U.S. relations for generations to come," Blair wrote. "We must resolve it in ways that strengthen our partnership."

While eastern European leaders welcomed the chance to join Europe in the declaration, they reacted defiantly to Chirac's outburst, reminiscent to some of the former Soviet Union's overbearing manner toward its satellites.

"Jacques Chirac should regret such expressions, which are not in the spirit of friendship and democratic relationships," Romanian President Ion Iliescu said.

"The French position shows certain anxiety," Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Lyubomir Ivanov told state radio.

"It is not the first time that pressure is being exerted upon us in one or another form, but in my opinion this is not the productive way to reach unity and consensus in the Security Council."

The EU declaration was endorsed by representatives of the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Malta.

In Rome, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday that Iraq had to "move very fast" to heed the call of the international community and cooperate with U.N. inspectors or face possible war.

But he refused to spell out how long inspections should continue, saying it was up to the Security Council to decide whether they had gone on long enough.