- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

The European Union plans to open a mission in Iraq after the country’s first free elections slated for January, to help train police, legal officials and administrators, EU foreign ministers said yesterday.

The 25-nation bloc will discuss its proposal with Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who is expected to visit Brussels tomorrow. It is part of an aid and cooperation package that includes about $38 million to help the election process, as well as the prospect of a trade agreement.

“An expert team should be sent by the end of November 2004 … to start initial planning for a possible integrated police, rule of law and civilian administration mission, which is expected to start after the January 2005 elections,” EU foreign ministers decided at a meeting earlier this week.

They said, however, that “all security concerns need to be appropriately addressed before any decision … could be taken.”

“Prime Minister Allawi’s attendance at the Nov. 5 European Council will present the union with an opportunity to further deepen and broaden its political dialogue with Iraq,” the ministers said in a statement.

“Iraq will be given the perspective of an agreement between the EU and Iraq to reflect the mutual interest in developing a partnership and to promote political and trade cooperation,” they said.

The $38 million in aid for the elections is an addition to nearly $400 million that the European Union had pledged for Iraqi reconstruction.

Individual member states are ready to make “substantial” contributions to the financing of the U.N. Protection Force in Iraq, after a request by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the ministers also said.

U.S. officials welcomed the new initiatives.

“They are a clear indication that the EU understands the importance of Iraq and the upcoming elections,” a State Department official said.

Although the ministers’ decisions were taken before President Bush’s re-election, both American and European officials expressed hope that the new EU plans for Iraq would help to overcome the prewar rift between Washington and some European countries.

“Europe is definitely working with us in coming up with support for Iraq, not only for the elections but for the reconstruction of Iraq,” Rockwell Schnabel, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying.

Mr. Schnabel said Europe and the United States will work in a “new spirit” on trade, counterterrorism measures and security in hot spots such as the Balkans and Afghanistan.

There is even room for cooperation on climate change, despite Mr. Bush’s rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, he said.

“There is no question that this president is very interested in relations with Europe and recognizes also that we have some work to do to get them back to where they used to be some time ago,” Mr. Schnabel said.

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