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ASEM Summit Concludes - 2002-09-24

Twenty-five Asian and European leaders have closed a two-day summit in Denmark with a pledge to boost trade between the two continents and to cooperate more closely in the fight against terrorism. But the leaders failed to reach a consensus on critical issues such as Iraq and the Middle East.

The Asia-Europe meeting (ASEM) closed with a renewed commitment to free trade. The summit host, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said a task force would be set up to study economic issues, including increased use of the common European currency to offset the influence of the U.S. dollar in intercontinental trade.

"I think the ASEM cooperation is a good framework for further investigation into the possibilities of the euro," he said.

But at a series of news conferences as the summit ended, it was clear that discussions on what to do about Iraq were inconclusive. French President Jacques Chirac said his government has indications that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, although he added that it is the task of United Nations weapons inspectors to provide proof.

Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji warned against any unilateral action that would violate Iraq's sovereignty.

"We also ask that Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity are respected," he said. "Without authority or mandate from the United Nations, or without firm evidence, any actions will lead to severe consequences."

Still, the summit declaration included an agreement to step up cooperation in the fight against terrorism. The leaders also welcomed the recent easing of tensions on the Korean peninsula and urged the United States to engage North Korea in a dialogue to help the impoverished Communist state out of its international isolation.

The ASEM leaders were silent on another trouble spot: the Middle East. Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen, in his capacity as holder of the rotating European Union presidency, telephoned Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during the day, urging him to do everything possible to halt the suicide bomb attacks against Israel.

Mr. Rasmussen also called on Israel to pull back its troops and end the siege around Mr. Arafat's compound.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told a summit news conference Israel risks turning Mr. Arafat into a martyr. Mr. Mahatir, considered a moderate Muslim leader, appealed to France, Germany and the United States to intervene to stop the siege. He told reporters that any harm to Mr. Arafat would create anger across the Muslim world, as well as recruits for terrorist groups.