- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 17 (UPI) — European Union leaders Monday managed to paper over deep differences on Iraq and, in an unexpected show of unity, issued a stick-and-olive-branch statement that on one hand warned Saddam Hussein to disarm or face war, but on the other hand took into account last week's anti-war protest demonstrations that swept through Europe.

In a declaration by the 15 member countries at the end of a daylong summit in Brussels the key sentiment was: "Baghdad should have no illusions; it must disarm immediately and completely. Iraq has the last opportunity to resolve the crisis peacefully. The Iraqi regime will be solely responsible for the consequences if it continues to disregard the will of the international community, and doesn't take advantage of this last chance."

But Saturday's massive anti-war marches in virtually every capital in Western Europe (plus some in the East) clearly cast a sobering shadow over the meeting. Analysts said that even Washington's most faithful EU supporters couldn't ignore the groundswell of opposition in their own countries to the Bush administration's hawkish approach to the Iraq crisis.

The EU summit acknowledged this new reality, calling for "a full and effective disarmament (by Iraq) in accordance with …U.N. Res. 1441."

"We want to achieve this peacefully," the EU averred. "This is clearly the desire of the people of Europe. War is not inevitable. The use of force should be used only as a last resort."

Observers had predicted a stormy session, with deadlock the likeliest outcome as the pro-U.S. faction consisting of Britain, Denmark, Spain, Italy, and Portugal sharply clashed with France, Germany, and the rest of the group that favors additional weapons inspections by the U.N. inspection team.

According to press reports, there were a number of heated exchanges, including one between French President Jacques Chirac and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. When Chirac pointed out that a U.S.-led attack on Iraq would inevitably cause numerous civilian casualties, Berlusconi interrupted him, saying, "What about the victims of September 11?" — a reference to the 2001 attack by Osama bin Laden's al Qaida terrorists on New York and Washington.

But in the end, everyone gave a little to avoid a dangerous widening of the schism in Europe.

"We started off very far apart, but we managed to decide on a clear common position," Berlusconi told reporters.

For example, the EU summit agreed to remove the phrase "time is quickly running out" for Saddam Hussein — one of President George W. Bush's favorite warnings — from the original draft statement because, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder explained later, Germany found it "unacceptable."

For all its sense of urgency, the summit statement imposed no deadline on Saddam Hussein, leaving the time frame of the inspections for the United Nations to decide. Observers said the timing had remained a sticking point in Brussels, and the summit leaders had decided to dodge it.

But the White House Monday termed the summit "a success," and expressed satisfaction that the use of force was mentioned as an option if Saddam did not disarm, even though the issue of a deadline is one on which the White House and the European anti-war countries disagree sharply.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration and Britain, its staunchest ally, are working on a draft U.N. resolution that will shift the action back to the U.N. Security Council, perhaps by the end of this week.

Diplomatic sources at the United Nations said Monday that one possible version of the Anglo-American resolution will set a specific time frame, probably three weeks, for Saddam Hussein to disclose the location of his stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, and to allow his weapons scientists to be interviewed by the U.N. inspectors, or face military action.

Another possible version will declare Saddam Hussein in breach of articles 11, 12, and 13 of U.N. Res. 1441 of last November requiring full and immediate disclosure of his weapons stockpiles or else face serious consequences. The resolution will therefore authorize the use of force against Iraq unless the Iraqi regime complies immediately with the terms of U.N. Res. 1441.

However, Chirac declared Monday that France, a permanent member of the Security Council with veto power, would block a second resolution while the U.N. inspection process was still going on.

"War is always, always the worst solution," Chirac insisted. "That is our position which leads me to conclude that it is not necessary today to have a second resolution, which France could only oppose."

Well informed European sources don't rule out that the Bush administration and its allies, blocked from obtaining the full U.N. backing they seek, might settle for the next best thing — a majority Security Council vote approving a military offensive.

Assuming the French veto the resolution, the sources say, the Bush administration could consider nine of the 15 Security Council votes in its favor, preferably with abstentions by Russia and China — two other veto-wielding members — as sufficient mandate to attack Iraq.

Following chief weapons inspector Hans Blix's report to the Security Council Friday, the United States appeared to find only four members to support its hard line position. The others backed a French proposal for an extension and strengthening of the weapons inspection process. But U.S. and British officials at the United Nations seemed confident Monday that they could muster the desired nine votes.

A reliable British source in London said Prime Minister Tony Blair, who many observers think is in danger of losing his post; such is the strength of anti-war sentiment in his own Labor party. Blair believes that with at least nine Security Council votes in favor of the war option, public opposition to British involvement in a military offensive against Saddam would diminish significantly.

But perhaps the only realistic approach to the Iraq crisis is Silvio Berlusconi's.

"Saddam Hussein hasn't disarmed yet," he admitted to reporters, "but miracles can happen."

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