- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

BERLIN, Feb. 13 (UPI) — German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder Thursday said it was still possible to resolve the Iraq crisis by peaceful means and said he would cooperate with like-minded members of the international community to solve the issue through diplomacy.

"We can disarm Iraq without war," Schroeder told the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament. "I see as my responsibility to grab this opportunity."

He said Germany would not vote in favor of war on Iraq in the U.N. Security Council, and would work alongside France, Russia and China to resolve the crisis.

Although Germany is not a veto-wielding permanent member of the council, at present it holds the body's rotating presidency. The permanent five members of the Security Council are split on the way to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The United States and Britain believe Iraq has a history of lying to the world, is in "material breach" of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, and is prepared to use military force to disarm Saddam.

The other three permanent council members — Russia, France and China — favor giving the U.N. weapons inspectors more time to disarm Baghdad.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 calls for Iraq's disarmament beginning with the return of the inspectors for the first time in four years and threatening "serious consequences" if Saddam Hussein failed to cooperate. U.N. inspectors have been in the country since Nov. 27 and have visited more than 500 sites across Iraq that are suspected of being linked to Iraq's programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Schroeder drew a standing ovation from his center-left Social Democrat-led coalition when he said while he favors Resolution 1441, it does not automatically authorize use of force against Iraq.

"Germany supports the resolution and we have worked toward implementing it," he said. " … This resolution contains nothing automatic as far as military force is concerned."

The disagreement over Iraq has split the 15-member European Union with France, Germany and Belgium standing opposed to another Gulf war and Britain, Spain and Italy backing the U.S. military build-up against Saddam Hussein.

Germany, France and Belgium have caused deep anger in Washington by opposing a U.S. proposal to strengthen Turkey's defenses in case of an Iraqi attack. The "dissident" group argues that if NATO fortifies the only Atlantic alliance country that borders on Iraq it will send the wrong signal and undermine efforts to resolve the crisis without an armed conflict.

U.N. General Secretary Koffi Annan is to attend an emergency summit of EU leaders on Iraq Monday, EU president Greece confirmed Thursday.

Annan will brief European leaders on the progress made by U.N. weapons inspectors in the light of a key Security Council debate on Iraq Friday, Greek officials said.

"We think Annan's presence will be very helpful. It will also be symbolic, considering the summit's importance for the EU," a spokesman said.

The meeting in Brussels is a last-ditch attempt to reach a common position on how to disarm Iraq. However, much to the chagrin of London, the 10 largely pro-American countries waiting to join the EU have not received an invitation to attend the summit.

Greek officials are aware of the risks of trying to forge a united EU stance on an issue that has exposed deep divisions between European states. "It is not an easy issue, but it is better to take a risk than take no action," said one.

A letter from British Prime Minister Tony Blair to his Greek counterpart Costas Simitis underlines the difficulties EU leaders are likely to encounter Monday.

The letter, which was obtained by United Press International, states that Saddam is already in "material breach" of Resolution 1441 and therefore faces "serious consequences."

"While we all of course regard military action as a last resort, we must make clear that no member state rules it out if needed to uphold the authority of the Security Council," Blair writes.

The British premier, seen as Washington's closest ally in Europe, says that "in the absence of full and immediate cooperation, the U.N. Security Council should move quickly to a second resolution."

However, the chances of Blair convincing his EU allies of this course of action appear slim given the trenchant opposition of France, Germany and Belgium to military conflict.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told German Bundestag Thursday that the government does not believe Iraq to be in "material breach" of Resolution 1441. He assured lawmakers Germany with the help of its partners would do everything possible to disarm Iraq peacefully.

Also, Schroeder said Thursday Germany would not vote in favor of war on Iraq in the Security Council. Instead it would press for the adoption of a joint declaration signed by Germany, France and Russia calling for weapons inspectors to be given more time and the inspections be intensified along the lines of a proposal advanced by the French.

The proposal calls for tripling the number of inspectors to at least 300, using French Mirage IV and Russian planes for aerial surveillance, and makes other suggestions for tightening the search process.

Under fire from the conservative opposition — and even some sections of his own party — for undermining U.S.-German relations, which have been the cornerstone of Germany foreign policy since the 1950s Schroeder said, "There is a difference of opinion. But Germany's relationship with the U.S. is based on substance."

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(UPI Chief European Correspondent Gareth Harding contributed to this report from Brussels.)

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