- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2003

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Feb. 7 (UPI) — A top European Union official Friday questioned the value of military strikes on Baghdad.

Speaking to journalists in Beirut, European Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten endorsed U.S. calls for greater democracy and better governance in the region, but questioned whether war on Iraq was the way to achieve that aim.

"I am not sure that the way to make people more moderate in the region is by bombing Baghdad," Patten said. "I hope that the region becomes more democratic and prosperous but it's not obvious to me that there is a connection between military activity in Iraq and an outcome which we would all like to see."

Patten was commenting on remarks by U.S. State Secretary Colin Powell Thursday who said attacking Iraq could result in drastically reshaping the region for the better.

But Patten also warned that if Iraq did not voluntarily abandon weapons of mass destruction, the alternatives were "pretty tough," and called on Arab countries to exert pressure on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to disarm.

He cautioned that allowing the Iraqi crisis to overshadow the Israeli-Palestinian crisis would be a mistake, and that war would make the problem worse.

Patten, on a Middle Eastern tour, has already been to Turkey and Iran. He sensed, he said, "a mood of some fatalism about the prospects for Iraq despite the efforts everyone is making to ensure that there can be a peaceful resolution to this crisis."

He spoke Friday after holding talks with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud

Urging Iraq to fully cooperate with U.N. arms inspectors, Patten warned that if they say that they were not allowed do their job, there were "alternatives, and they are pretty tough."

Patten emphasized the need for eliminating weapons of mass destruction in the Persian Gulf, saying: "If that can be achieved peacefully so much the better and I think it would be a considerable success for the U.N. and the exercise of international authority."

He called on Arab countries to exert pressures on Saddam to co-operate completely with U.N. inspectors.

Negotiations were under way to hold a meeting of the E.U. Council at the level of heads of government or foreign ministers to discuss the Iraqi problem, he said.

Turning to the Israeli-Arab conflict, Patten said the Iraqi crisis should not be allowed to overshadow it.

"I don't think this is a problem that can be parked until some indefinite moment in the future," he said. "It's not a problem which is going to be made easier to solve if there is a military confrontation in Iraq."

He said the establishment of a Palestinian state living at peace with Israel was the only solution that "offers the prospects of an end to bloodshed in the Middle East."

Lahoud said international calls for implementing U.N. resolutions should not be "selective in such a way as it covers one troubled region and keeps away from another more troubled region."

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