European Union leaders have offered "strong support" for Iraq's interim government, including more technical assistance and the possibility of a trade deal. The pledge came after EU leaders attending a summit met with Iraq's interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi.
Mr. Allawi arrived in Brussels under a cloud, after calling European nations that opposed the war in Iraq "spectators" of the turmoil in his country.
That remark did not sit well with some European leaders, and Mr. Allawi tried Friday to back away from it.
"I never said that Europe is a spectator," he says. "Europe has been very generous in supporting Iraqis when we were fighting terrorism, when we were fighting tyranny in Iraq and dictatorship, we were hosted in European countries, all European countries. Europe stood with us, and Europe is standing with us now."
EU leaders promised to give Iraq about $38 million in technical assistance for its scheduled elections in January. They also said they would provide additional funds for a security force to protect United Nations aid workers in Iraq. They pledged, as well, to study the possibility of launching a program aimed at improving Iraq's police, judiciary and civil administration once the elections are over. And they promised to give Iraq a special trading status when, as their statement says, "conditions allow."
Diplomats say the EU's willingness to get involved in Iraq is part of an effort to build bridges to the United States following President Bush's re-election.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair was instrumental in pushing for a greater EU commitment to Iraq.
"And it is important that we work with the Americans and, of course, with the Iraqi government to bring that stability to Iraq because as we look at our world today, the more we can see how many of the problems come out of the instability and problems of the Middle East," Mr. Blair said. "And to have Iraq turn from a repressive failing state after Saddam Hussein to a democracy would have a huge impact on the whole of the Middle East, not just on Iraq itself."
Not everyone agrees with Mr. Blair. French President Jacques Chirac, who has had his differences with Mr. Allawi in the past, did not attend the lunch with the Iraqi prime minister. His aides denied it was a snub, but diplomats say France managed to get a phrase explicitly welcoming Mr. Allawi to the summit deleted from the final communique.
Earlier, the Iraqi prime minister visited the headquarters of the NATO alliance and urged the allies to speed up plans to expand NATO's military training program in Iraq. Delays in doing so, he said, are hurting efforts to end the violence ravaging his country.
He also urged European nations that plan to pull their troops out of Iraq in the coming months, like Hungary and the Netherlands, to keep their soldiers in the country. He says a decrease in multinational forces will have an adverse effect on Iraq and will only encourage those whom he described as "terrorists."