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EU, UN Discuss Role in Post-War Iraq - 2003-04-17


A historic European summit in Athens closed, with the official business of signing up 10 new members successfully completed. But the unofficial business of patching up differences between EU members split over Iraq has only just begun.

As delegates begin to drift away from the classical setting of Athens, many were able to reflect with satisfaction upon a successful gathering. Parties from 10 states headed to the airport with the knowledge that their nations will become full members of the European Union in a little more than a year.

Those states, seven of which emerged from communism, commented upon how apt it was that they should sign up to the European Union in Athens, often dubbed the cradle of democracy.

But other nations already established in the European Union have been worrying less about an ancient democracy, and more about the creation of a new one in Baghdad.

And on the issue of Iraq, post-war as pre-war, the cracks within the European Union are proving difficult to paper over. Delegates made a valiant attempt to do just that, however, working overnight with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to produce a common statement on what they see as the EU role in the reconstruction of Iraq.

Mr. Annan coaxed the European Union to resolve its differences over the conflict and its aftermath, and in return, the member states adopted a statement calling for the United Nations to a play a central role in post-war Iraq.

But as with U.N. resolutions before the war, the language of the statement was sufficiently nuanced for all parties to interpret it as they wished. For the British, whose chief allies in Washington are cool on the idea of U.N. involvement, a central role means the United Nations can play a significant part in humanitarian operations. But the statement could also be seen to support the French position.

French President Jacques Chirac has insisted that only the United Nations, and not Washington, can provide legitimacy to structural and governmental rebuilding in post-war Iraq.

U.N. involvement in rebuilding Iraq was not the only problem. Mr. Chirac also questioned the motives behind President Bush's call for an early end to sanctions in Iraq. Analysts say lifting U.N. sanctions would free up the Iraqi oil market, where France has established interests that could then be sidelined.

Before the war, France had pressed for an easing of sanctions, but the United States tied such a move to the destruction of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

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