- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Jan. 27 (UPI) — EU foreign ministers Monday said they were "deeply concerned" about the situation in Iraq, but called for U.N. inspectors to be given more time to conduct their search for banned weapons.

In a short statement adopted just before chief weapons inspector Hans Blix presented his 60-day report to the U.N. Security Council, ministers urged Iraq's "immediate compliance" with Resolution 1441, which they said gave an "unambiguous message that the Iraqi government has a final opportunity to resolve the crisis peacefully."

Expressing their complete confidence in Blix and International Atomic Energy Authority head Mohamed ElBaradei, the EU's top diplomats said they "welcomed their intention to continue and intensify their operations."

Ahead of Monday's meeting, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana called for the inspectors to be given "weeks or months" to finish their search for outlawed weapons.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair also said the inspectors needed more time, but added that this was not "infinite."

In the EU statement, which diplomats described as a "lowest common denominator" text, ministers called on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to "engage in full and active cooperation" with U.N. inspectors.

"The Iraqi authorities must, as an imperative, provide the inspectors, without delay, with all additional and complete information on questions raised by the international community," they said.

Ministers ducked the issue of whether a second U.N. resolution was needed to trigger war against Baghdad, but they issued a veiled warning against any unilateral military action by the United States.

"The responsibility of the U.N. Security Council in maintaining international peace must be respected," they said in a statement.

Speaking before a meeting between the four EU's four Security Council members Monday, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said: "Time is running out for Saddam Hussein. He has had a lot of time, 12 years to fully comply (with U.N. resolutions on weapons of mass destruction). We'll make decision on exactly how much time later today in the light of the U.N. report."

His warning was echoed by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, whose country has refused to take part in any military action against Iraq.

"Iraq has to know there is no more room for tactical maneuvers," said the Green Party leader.

The European Union has been plagued by splits over how to deal with Saddam's regime since the beginning of the latest stand-off between Washington and Baghdad.

Britain, supported by Spain, Italy, Denmark and most eastern European countries broadly supports the U.S. stance, whereas Germany, France, Belgium and Greece have adopted a more conciliatory position.

A statement demanding more time for U.N. inspectors is seen as a way of presenting a united front on Iraq, while buying time for Brussels to resolve its policy differences.

However, how that will be received in Washington is a matter of question.

Speaking Sunday in Switzerland, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said: "To those who say, 'Why not give the inspections process more time?' I ask: 'How much more time does Iraq need?' … It is not a matter of time, it is a matter of telling the truth, and Saddam still responds with evasion and lies."

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