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EU Summit Wraps on Conciliatory Tone Despite Disagreements - 2002-08-31

European Union foreign ministers, meeting in Denmark, have struck a conciliatory tone on disagreements between the EU and the United States on a wide range of issues, including Iraq, the International War Crimes Court and trade disputes.

With several member countries wavering on common EU positions, the 15-nation bloc seemed in disarray as foreign ministers ended a two-day gathering at a seaside resort near the Elsinore Castle immortalized in Shakespeare's Hamlet.

The difficulty of speaking with one voice was nowhere more evident than on the issue of the International Criminal Court. In what would be a challenge to a European Commission ruling, Britain and Italy indicated they might break ranks and sign bilateral agreements exempting U.S. personnel from ICC prosecution over allegations of war crimes.

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller, host of the Elsinore meeting, tried to put the best face on the apparent defections. He said a team of 15 legal experts has been appointed to work out a compromise between the seemingly irreconcilable U.S. and European positions.

"The United States plays an important role in solving a lot of crises around the world, " he said, "so if we can make a conclusion with the U.S. that saves the ICC, and gives the ICC a good start, and somehow find a solution for the United States, which is already outside the ICC, then it would be better than having no solution."

Cracks were also evident in the EU's position on Iraq. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer reiterated Berlin's opposition to any military action to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But at the same time, British Prime Minister Tony Blair struck a much tougher tone. He was quoted as saying on a flight to South Africa that the world must act firmly to stop Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction in flagrant violation of U.N. resolutions. Asked by reporters about growing international opposition to a possible military strike, Mr. Blair pointed to Kosovo and Afghanistan as examples of what he called sensible and measured military action that had the broadest international support.

Danish Foreign Minister Moeller said the EU would stick to its insistence that Saddam Hussein immediately allow the return of United Nations weapons inspectors.

"The European Union says the Iraqi regime must allow the weapons inspectors in and it must do it immediately to ascertain whether there are weapons of mass destruction or not," he said.

Mr. Moeller also said the EU ministers had given broad support to what he calls a new "road map" for peace in the Middle East. The plan contains nothing new, but is made up of ideas that have been widely supported in the international community. The Danish minister is to hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during a tour of the region next week.