- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

ATHENS, Greece, April 17 (UPI) — Attempting to put past divisions over Iraq behind them, European Union leaders meeting in Athens Thursday called on the United Nations to be given a "central role" in the post-war rebuilding of the oil-rich state.

In a statement agreed at the end of a two-day summit in the Greek capital, the 15 leaders said: "The U.N. must play a central role, including in the process leading toward self-government for the Iraqi people, utilizing its unique capacity and experience in post-conflict nation building."

However, accepting the reality on the ground in Iraq, Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, said: "It is clear allied forces have to ensure security for the Iraqi people and restore peace in Iraq and this cannot be done by the United Nations."

Even French President Jacques Chirac, the leader of Europe's anti-war camp, conceded that the United Nations could only start operating once coalition forces had secured the peace.

In a cleverly-worded text that papered over the bloc's differences over Iraq, the 15-member club urged U.S.-led forces to secure emergency aid supplies to needy Iraqis and prevent the pillaging of the country's historical sites.

"At this stage the coalition has the responsibility to ensure a secure environment, including for the provision of humanitarian assistance and the protection of the cultural heritage and museums," the leaders said.

Chirac described the sacking of Baghdad's main museum as a "crime against humanity" and said he had expressed his "indignation" to U.S. President George W. Bush during a 20-minute phone call Tuesday.

In a meeting dubbed the "kiss and make up summit," EU leaders agreed to step up the airlifting of injured Iraqi children to European hospitals and send urgent medical supplies to the Middle East state.

In a veiled warning to Syria, which Washington has accused of harbouring terrorist groups and Iraqi war criminals, EU leaders also called on Baghdad's neighbors to "support stability in Iraq and the region."

However, new fault lines emerged in the Greek capital after Denmark confirmed it was drumming up EU support to send European peacekeepers to Iraq following a request from The White House.

"There is a desperate need for a stabilization force in Iraq here and now and I don't think we can wait for a new United Nations resolution," said Danish Prime Minister Anders-Fogh Rasmussen.

The leaders of Spain and the Netherlands, both backers of the U.S-stance, also spoke of the need to secure the peace swiftly in Iraq. Italy has already sent specialist forces to the region following the end of full-scale hostilities.

The Danish leader's position is in stark contrast to that of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who held a marathon round of one-to-one meetings with European leaders in Athens.

"Any role assigned to the U.N., aside from purely humanitarian tasks, must be defined by the Security Council," Annan told European heads of state Thursday.

"There is no question of the U.N. playing a secondary role under the authority of an occupying power, nor of it accepting tasks which it does not have the means to carry out."

The United States is reluctant to hand the U.N. any authority over post-war Iraq given the body's refusal to sanction military force to disarm Saddam Hussein.

In a meeting overshadowed by the war in Iraq, EU leaders also signed a membership treaty with 10 mostly former communist countries at a ceremony below the Acropolis where democracy first flourished 25 centuries ago.

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