- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Feb. 10 (UPI) — Greece, which holds the rotating European Union presidency, Monday called for a Feb. 17 summit of EU leaders to thrash out a united European stance on how to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

The emergency meeting is expected to be held in Brussels after an EU foreign ministers' conclave.

Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis said Athens was making "every effort to ensure Europe speaks with one voice, because we consider it necessary … for it to exert an influence."

In recent weeks, the 15-member bloc has been split down the middle over Iraq. France and Germany are firmly opposed to a second Gulf War and are expected to table a U.N. Security Council resolution Friday calling for weapons inspections to be stepped up and for U.N. peacekeepers to be sent to Iraq.

Britain, Spain and Italy, on the other hand, back the U.S. military build-up in the Middle East and favor a second U.N. resolution urging Baghdad to comply fully with Security Council Resolution 1441 or face an all-out war.

EU foreign ministers reached a minimalist common position on Iraq on Jan. 27. However, this was undermined several days later when a group of five EU states, together with 3 Central European countries expected to join the bloc next year, published a letter expressing their support for Washington's position of disarming Iraq with force if needed.

Greece first toyed with the idea of holding a crisis summit on Iraq last week, but appeared to back down after several states said such a meeting would expose EU divisions over the issue.

Greek officials said the get-together was urgently needed to assess chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix's second report to the Security Council on Feb. 14 and to discuss the peace process in the Middle East following Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou's recent tour of the region.

"I don't see anyone objecting to the idea of holding a leader's summit," said a Greek government spokesman.

The announcement from Athens came on the day three European states vetoed a U.S. request to provide Turkey with NATO military assistance in the event of an attack by neighboring Iraq.

The unprecedented action by France, Germany and Belgium has plunged the military alliance into its deepest crisis for decades. U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicolas Burns described the use of the veto as a "most unfortunate decision" and said the 19-member bloc faced a "crisis of credibility."

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