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EU: Solana Says Brussels Has No Common Position On Iraq

  • Ahto Lobjakas

Javier Solana, who presides over the European Union's common foreign policy, told reporters yesterday the EU does not have a common position on Iraq. In so doing, he contradicted EU leaders, who barely a week earlier declared they had reached agreement concerning policy on Iraq. Solana's comments will put a question mark over the mission of an EU delegation bound for Washington on 27 February.

Brussels, 25 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The chief representative for the European Union's common foreign policy, Javier Solana, yesterday laid bare what everyone had long suspected: the EU does not have a common foreign policy on Iraq.

Solana's comments came a mere seven days after an emergency EU summit agreed to what was then described as a common position. To emphasize their success, EU leaders on 17 February declared the emergency gathering an official summit, thus ensuring that the decision was automatically binding on all member states.

Yet, from the beginning there was no shortage of critics, who asserted that the position was a papering over of cracks, or at best a short-term solution.

Visibly strained, Solana said the EU's common institutions were not equipped to deal with international crises of the magnitude of Iraq. "We were facing a problem that we know that exists. The European Union does not have a single foreign policy. It has a common foreign policy, which is different. There are moments when a common foreign policy cannot be [attained].... This is a very important issue, which deals with war and peace, and we should have been able to get to a common position, but we haven't. That is part of the effort that the presidency, myself, and the [European] Commission and [its external-relations commissioner] Chris Patten have been trying to strive to obtain. But we have to say very frankly -- at least I have to say very frankly -- that I have failed. For the moment, we do not have such a position, and we have to recognize that," Solana said.

Solana noted that every time the EU has reached a consensus on Iraq, it has been breached a few days later. "But," he summed up, "that is life, and we can't go any further."

Solana's comments yesterday seem to indicate that he has accepted that war in Iraq is inevitable. A week ago, just before the EU's emergency summit, Solana told reporters in Brussels that he thinks EU unity on Iraq would be "the most important element to solve this crisis by peaceful means."

Solana's candid insights came as a response to increasingly hostile questioning from reporters at a news conference yesterday challenging him and other EU representatives to explain the position they will present to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice in Washington on 27 February. The meeting in Washington will be attended by Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, Solana, and Patten. Britain, on one side, and France and Germany, on the other, appeared yesterday to do their best to fuel Solana's discomfort by enunciating conflicting positions on Iraq.

Jack Straw, Britain's foreign secretary, confirmed that his country, together with the United States, would introduce a new UN resolution later yesterday saying that Saddam Hussein has missed his final opportunity to disarm and must face the consequences, i.e., war. The resolution was indeed introduced several hours later.

His French colleague Dominique de Villepin, on the other hand, said there is no majority in the Security Council for a second resolution, adding that weapons inspections in Iraq are producing results and must be intensified. De Villepin's view was echoed by Germany's Joschka Fischer, who said a second resolution was not necessary.

Caught unawares by Solana's unexpected soul-searching, other EU spokesmen resorted to damage limitation, emphasizing questions on which the EU has a common position that differs from that of the United States.

Patten insisted that there are important areas of foreign policy on which the entire EU is in agreement, mentioning the Middle East peace process as an example. Patten said EU unity on that issue would be made clear to the U.S. administration on 27 February in "courteous terms." "One thing on which there has been a debate and [on which] there is an absolutely clear common view is on the Middle East, the Middle East peace process, on the importance of not parking the Middle East peace process in a blood-soaked lay-by. And that is a point that we will be putting very vigorously [to the United States]," Patten said.

EU officials have made no secret of their frustration over what they describe as U.S. obstruction in publishing and implementing the "road map" for Middle East peace adopted informally late last year by the so-called quartet of the United Nations, the United States, the EU, and Russia.

Greek Foreign Minister Papandreou, in charge of his country's EU presidency, was left yesterday to pick up the pieces. Like Patten, he chose to focus on the ways the EU's understanding differs from that of the United States. "We have to be clear that we, all 15 [EU members], want full cooperation and disarmament. That is a clear message to Iraq. We also are very clear, and we discussed this today again, that we're talking about disarmament and not regime change. This is [implied by UN Resolution] 1441. That means that the message to Saddam Hussein is that if he does comply with disarmament, with cooperation, that will be the peaceful resolution of this crisis. We do not have other goalposts [sic]; we do not have some hidden agenda," Papandreou said.

EU officials last night confirmed that Britain agrees that regime change in Iraq is not necessary to fulfill the conditions set down in Resolution 1441.

Papandreou emphasized that the EU's views have points in common with those of the Arab League, two of whose leading officials attended the EU foreign ministers' meeting yesterday. He said both sides agree that war in Iraq is not inevitable, that the United Nations should remain in the driver's seat in the Iraq crisis, and that UN weapons inspections should be given all the support necessary.

Papandreou said EU representatives plan to take part in the Arab League summit scheduled for 3 March.