European Union leaders have papered over their differences at an emergency summit in Brussels, issuing a joint declaration that urges a peaceful solution to the crisis but maintains the option of force as a last resort. The summit's final statement insists that Iraq must comply with United Nations disarmament resolutions and warns that arms inspections cannot go on indefinitely.
There was something for everyone in the compromise communique. The pro-U.S. hard-liners led by Britain and Spain will be happy with the warning that inspections cannot go on forever. And the "give peace a chance" crowd led by France and Germany will be satisfied with the call for all diplomatic efforts to be exhausted before the use of force is considered.
The summit only papered over deep internal divisions within the 15-nation bloc And, as soon as it was over, many of the leaders sought to accentuate what they thought was the final statement's positive elements.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, for example, stressed that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is facing his last chance to disarm peacefully. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder made much of the fact that he had insisted that the phrase "time is running out" be eliminated from the document. But Germany, which has opposed war even if it is sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council, went along with the idea that the use of force should be a last resort if everything else fails.
French President Jacques Chirac repeated his opposition to a second Security Council resolution that is being sought by the United States and Britain, saying there is no need for it at this time. Mr. Chirac also criticized Central and Eastern European nations scheduled to join the Union next year for issuing a statement backing the United States over Iraq. He said they should have kept quiet.
With these differences bubbling beneath the surface, it was not surprising that Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, evaded questions about how long U.N. weapons inspections should go on or what the EU will do if Saddam Hussein fails to fully comply with the demands of the inspectors. Speaking through an interpreter, he says those matters are for the U.N. to decide.
"We believe that the focus of the international order is the U.N.," he said. "It is the U.N. which has the priority, the primary responsibility for managing the Iraqi crisis, and the issue of the disarmament of Iraq is in the hands of the Security Council."
In a bow to the millions of people who took to the streets all over Europe in recent days to demonstrate against a war in Iraq, Mr. Simitis emphasized that the EU wants the crisis to be solved peacefully. This, he said, is what the European people want. But, despite coming up with what one diplomat called a "lowest common denominator agreement," European governments still remain deeply divided over the Iraqi issue.