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EU Leaders Hold Emergency Summit on Iraq - 2003-02-17

Deeply divided European Union leaders have begun an emergency summit in Brussels in a bid to forge a common position on Iraq. The leaders are worried that continued disagreement on the issue could dilute the EU's influence on the world stage.

The EU is divided between those like Britain and Spain who are prepared to use force to disarm Iraq and those like France and Germany who want more time to be given to United Nations weapons inspectors.

French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair reaffirmed their positions as they arrived at EU headquarters. Mr. Chirac said France would oppose a second U.N. resolution authorizing force against Iraq now, while Mr. Blair said force may be necessary if Iraq cannot be disarmed peacefully.

That signals that the two are unlikely to bridge their differences, but the EU's Greek presidency hopes they will avoid making Europe's divisions even worse.

EU foreign ministers met throughout most of Monday, and diplomats say they generally agree that the weapons inspections in Iraq should continue. Where the ministers disagree, say the diplomats, is over how much more time the inspectors should be given to complete their work.

So it is now up to the presidents and prime ministers to try to strike a deal.