- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Feb. 17 (UPI) — Disarm or face the threat of war, European Union leaders told Iraqi President Saddam Hussein Monday in a significant toughening of the 15-member bloc's stance toward Baghdad.

Glossing over the glaring differences that have surfaced in recent weeks, EU leaders meeting in Brussels warned: "Baghdad should have no illusions; it must disarm and cooperate immediately and fully."

"Iraq has a final opportunity to resolve the crisis peacefully. The Iraqi regime alone will be responsible for the consequences if it continues to flout the will of the international community and does not take this last chance."

The threatening language in the EU declaration reflects the hard-line stance of Britain, Italy, Spain, Denmark and Portugal toward Saddam. Last month, the five countries signed a public letter of support for the U.S.-led military buildup in the Gulf.

In a nod to Britain, which has sent 40,000 troops to the Gulf, the declaration says the U.S.-led military buildup in the region has been "essential in obtaining the return of the inspectors."

However, the statement also attempts to take account of the Franco-German-led "peace camp" and the views of the millions of anti-war protesters who marched through Europe's streets Saturday.

"War is not inevitable. Force should only be used as a last resort. It is for the Iraqi regime to end this crisis by complying with the demands of the Security Council."

United Nations weapons inspectors "should be given the time and resources the U.N. Security Council believes they need," said EU leaders.

But in a sign of the bloc's increasing impatience with Baghdad, the statement says the inspections "cannot continue indefinitely in the absence of full Iraqi cooperation."

In an attempt to draw a line under the increasingly bitter divisions over Iraq in NATO, the EU and the United Nations, the statement concludes: "The unity of the international community is vital. … We are committed to working with all our partners, especially the United States, for the disarmament of Iraq."

Referring to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's division of the continent into a pro-American "New Europe" and an anti-American "Old Europe" composed of France and Germany, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said: "This shows that young and not-so-young Europe are together."

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who briefed EU leaders on the progress of weapons inspectors, also urged the international community to put aside its differences over Iraq.

"We all agree that Iraq must disarm, and do it proactively and immediately. And I think it is important that we focus on that principal task and avoid the tendency of turning on each other."

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