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EU Calls for End to Rhetoric on Syria - 2003-04-14

A top European Union official has called for a reduction in rhetoric about Syria at an EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana did not specifically mention the United States, but his remarks follow warnings from U.S. officials that Syria not provide safe haven for former leaders of the Saddam Hussein regime.

Mr. Solana said, now is the time to make constructive statements, in order to cool down the situation in the Middle East. His remarks were echoed by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who called for concentration on winning the peace, rather than getting into a new confrontation.

President Bush on Sunday warned Syria not to offer exile to fleeing Iraqi leaders and also said Syria may possess chemical weapons. Syria says it is not taking in Iraqi officials and denies having chemical weapons.

EU officials, however, are expressing concern over the issue of banned weapons. In a letter ahead of the meeting Foreign Policy Chief Solana warned that the European Union should do more to fight the spread of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. He said the world may be confronted in coming years with some serious cases of proliferation.

"This is a global problem," he said later at a news conference. "It is not a problem for one country, or two countries in the world," he said. "It is a problem for everybody. And, therefore, to take seriously this problem of proliferation is fundamental for us."

The ministers asked Mr. Solana to draft a global threat assessment on nations that possess weapons of mass destruction.

An EU diplomat says the foreign ministers discussed ideas like establishing a common threat assessment, so that everybody knows where the problem lies, and tightening export controls on materials and equipment that might be used for weapons of mass destruction.

Strengthening international treaties on such matters was also reviewed. One reported option is to increase monitoring and information gathering by increasing cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Analysts say the European Union should be ready to consider cutting aid or introducing visa restrictions on governments that sell material needed to produce weapons of mass destruction.

The foreign ministers also discussed the role the 15-nation European Union could play in post-war Iraq. The EU says it favors a central role for the United Nations in Iraq, while the United States opposes a leading role for the U.N., except in humanitarian aid, and plans to install an interim government under the auspices of the coalition that fought the war.

France, meanwhile, says it will be pragmatic about post-war Iraq, and set aside differences with the United States. "It is useless to go back to what divided us. Let us turn to the future," said French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.