- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium, March 12 (UPI) — EU aid to help build Iraq could be put at risk if Washington acts without the backing of the United Nations, EU foreign affairs commissioner Chris Patten said Wednesday.

Speaking to members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, the former British minister said: "It will be that much more difficult for the European Union to cooperate fully and on a large scale — also in the longer term reconstruction process — if events unfold without the proper U.N. cover and if the member states remain divided."

Echoing comments made by French President Jacques Chirac, Patten told parliamentarians: "It is of the greatest importance that if a war is waged in Iraq, the United Nations should authorize the decision to attack."

The former governor of Hong Kong also said the United Nations — rather than the United States — should oversee the Middle Eastern country in the event that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime crumbles.

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, Wednesday stepped up the pressure on the United States to stick with the U.N. route.

"It is absolutely necessary to respect the Security Council. Decisions must be taken through U.N. institutions and we, as the EU, consider that decisions taken outside the U.N. on matters such as military intervention do not comply with legal formality," he said.

The commission's threat to make aid conditional on international backing matters because the EU is the largest humanitarian donor to Iraq and is expected to foot a large chunk of the reconstruction bill in the country — as it did in Afghanistan and after the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

The Brussels-based body has set aside almost $15 million for humanitarian assistance, but refused to draw up detailed plans for rebuilding the country before the outbreak of hostilities.

Speaking to CNN Wednesday, Patten said the U.S. administration's decision to draw up a short-list of contractors to help rebuild Iraq "doesn't send out exactly the right signal at the moment."

In a strongly worded speech to the EU assembly, Patten took issue with the U.S.' hard-line stance toward Baghdad, asking: "As a general rule, are wars not more likely to recruit terrorists than deter them?"

The former Conservative party chairman also rapped U.S. President George W. Bush for failing to focus on the ongoing violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories. "To invade Iraq while failing to bring peace to the Middle East would create exactly the sort of conditions in which terrorism would thrive. And none of us would be immune from the consequences."

Patten, who has been tipped as the next chancellor of Oxford University, did not spare the European Union from his withering criticism.

The commissioner said the 15-member bloc had cut a "sorry figure" in the "last few miserable weeks" and admitted the EU's nascent common foreign and security policy had "suffered a severe setback" because of open divisions over Iraq.

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