- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium, March 17 (UPI) — The European Union continued to push for a peaceful solution to the Iraqi stand-off Monday even though the prospect of a U.S.-led attack on Baghdad appeared increasingly likely.

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, whose country has the rotating presidency of the EU, told reporters in Athens: "We must use all the hours and all the days to find a peaceful way out of the crisis."

Papandreou spoke to his British and Spanish counterparts Sunday in a last-minute bid to persuade the two EU members to work within the U.N. framework.

However, his plea was ignored Monday as the two countries, along with the United States, abandoned diplomatic efforts and made final preparations for an armed strike against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis accused London and Madrid of undermining European attempts to forge a united stance on Iraq.

"I would say that the presidency has exhausted all the possibilities and margins in the framework of institutional processes within the EU. But you see that some European Union countries align themselves outside the EU framework with the United States."

Speaking after the United States, Britain and Spain announced their decision not to seek another U.N. resolution on Iraq, European Commission President Romano Prodi said: "Even if war seems to be more probable, the commission urges all countries concerned to find a peaceful solution."

The former Italian prime minister said the 15-member EU "deeply regrets that the U.N. Security Council seems unable to reach a consensus on Iraq," adding that the decision to wage war against Baghdad could "only be taken under the authority of the United Nations."

Echoing the position of France and Germany, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said: "I am very concerned about the situation. It is very grave but I still have not lost all hope. We have to keep on the work for peace to find a final solution that is peaceful."

EU foreign ministers are due to discuss the Iraqi situation in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday before a Friday summit of EU leaders, which is likely to be overshadowed by the looming conflict in the Middle East.

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