- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Feb. 18 (UPI) — Senior politicians from the 10 former communist countries waiting to join the European Union hit back Tuesday at French President Jacques Chirac for describing them as childish and irresponsible for backing the U.S. stance on Iraq.

"Jacques Chirac should regret such expressions, which are not in the spirit of friendship and democratic relationships," said Romanian President Ion Iliescu.

Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Lubomir Ivanov described the comments as a sign of "nervousness," adding: "This approach will not help to create unity in the Security Council."

Sofia is one of the few members of the U.N. body to support the U.S.-led military build-up in the Gulf.

Asked whether he thought Chirac was attempting to bully the future EU members, Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Vonda replied bluntly: "That's the way it seems."

Chirac made his controversial remarks at the end of an emergency EU summit on Iraq on Monday, to which the newcomers were not invited.

The French president, who is no stranger to summit rows, told reporters the future member states were "on the one hand not very well brought-up and a bit unaware of the dangers that a too-rapid alignment with the American position could bring with it."

Last month, the leaders of the 10 countries – which are due to become full members of the EU next year — published a joint letter supporting the U.S. position on Iraq. Three of the states also signed a letter of support for Washington along with current EU members Britain, Spain, Italy, Denmark and Portugal.

A furious Chirac said Monday: "They should have kept quiet." The septuagenarian leader also hinted that France might block the countries' EU membership bids when they are due to be ratified later this year.

As candidate country leaders met in Brussels on Tuesday to be debriefed on the outcome of the EU summit, British Prime Minister Tony Blair — who pushed unsuccessfully for the countries to attend Monday's meeting — rode to their rescue.

"They have as much right to speak up as Great Britain or France or any other member of the European Union today. They know the value of Europe and America sticking together."

Chirac's jibes also received a verbal mauling from members of the European Parliament. British Labor deputy Gary Titley said: "These comments are patronizing and arrogant. In typically Gaullist fashion, Chirac is trying French bully-boy tactics on new members of the club."

After a tense meeting on Tuesday, the 10 states, along with Cyprus, Malta and Turkey, agreed to throw their weight behind an EU statement calling for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to disarm immediately or face the threat of war.

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