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EU: Brussels Adopts Another Common Strategy For Iraq

  • Ahto Lobjakas

European Union leaders yesterday signed a joint declaration on Iraq. Although differences over the ongoing war remain irreconcilable, the EU has set out a number of common priorities for the future. Among them, the bloc insists on a leading role for the United Nations in postconflict Iraq. It also offers humanitarian aid and seeks to ensure that Iraq's integrity and wider regional stability are not disrupted. RFE/RL looks at the latest EU stance on Iraq.

Brussels, 21 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Attempting to put an end to months of discord, European Union leaders last night agreed on another common stance on Iraq.

In the words of Greek Prime Minister Kostas Simitis -- speaking on behalf of the EU's current presidency -- the bloc's common foreign and security policy yesterday took "a step forward." The advance, he said, represented a welcome reverse of what he called "two steps backwards," when a minority of member states, led by Britain, sided with the United States in lending their support to war against Iraq without a United Nations Security Council mandate.

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou said member states recognized that present differences over Iraq could not be overcome or eliminated. As a result, they agreed to look to the future, acknowledging that a need remains for a "strong European voice" on a range of fundamentally important issues.

"The European leaders did not overcome differences on the war. They have, however, said this is a fact. We must now see the situation on the ground. The Iraqi crisis is not over, the problems are not gone. There are issues for Iraq. There are issues for stability. There are issues for the region. There are issues for the neighbors. There are issues such as the Middle East peace process. There are issues as far as our relationship with the Arab world [goes] -- we must strengthen it, we must work with the Arab world. There are also issues on a big debate we must have with the United States," Papandreou said.

All of these issues -- and several more -- feature in a joint declaration negotiated last night by the EU's Greek presidency. The declaration affirms the EU's commitment to Iraq's territorial integrity, and the need for the UN to play a "central role" during and especially after the crisis. The document commits the EU to active involvement in addressing any humanitarian needs to result from the war. It says Iraq must have a representative government in the future that is at peace with its neighbors. The EU also promises aid to neighboring countries affected by fallout from the conflict.

EU officials acknowledge a number of yesterday's commitments are wrought with potential pitfalls. For example, the EU's plans for Iraq appear at this stage to have been made without any extensive consultation with the United States.

The EU declaration says the Security Council should give the UN a "strong mandate" for its mission in Iraq. Simitis yesterday sidestepped questions whether this means a new council resolution is needed and what the extent of its mandate would be. He said merely that the decision on a UN mandate must be made "sooner or later."

EU officials admitted privately that if a UN mandate is not forthcoming -- or if it should be delayed -- some EU member states could query the "legality" of the reconstruction processes in Iraq. One official noted that if the UN does not assume the leading role in postconflict Iraq, it will raise doubts about the UN's relevance.

Given these uncertainties, EU member states yesterday confined themselves to discussions of immediate humanitarian relief, leaving aside long-term reconstruction aid. The European Commission will hold an emergency session today to discuss ways of boosting the 21 million-euro aid budget available immediately.

The EU's humanitarian aid commissioner, Poul Nielson, said yesterday he puts the short-term needs of Iraq and its neighbors at 100 million euros. Yesterday's document suggests at least some of Iraq's humanitarian needs can continue to be met through the oil-for-food program.

Another worry the EU expresses in its joint declaration is the continued territorial integrity of Iraq. Papandreou told RFE/RL yesterday threats to Iraq's territory are manifold. "There are different groups, different minorities, different ethnic groups inside, these could be the focus of secession. We could see the breakup of Iraq. We don't want to see it because this would then create new problems in the region, it could create new conflict in the region, we could see many wars in the region. We also don't want neighbors getting involved in this process either," Papandreou said.

Papandreou said the "Kurdish issue" is particularly worrisome. He said secessionist tendencies could emerge among both Kurdish communities in Iraq and Turkey, adding that there are also "strong feelings" about the problem in Turkey itself. Yesterday, Turkey's parliament passed a motion to dispatch troops to mountainous areas across its border with Iraq.

Papandreou yesterday said the EU would prefer Iraq's neighbors to "stay out as much as possible."

Finally, perhaps the most important unknown in the EU's newest common position is the reaction and future actions of the United States. The joint declaration says the EU holds the trans-Atlantic partnership to be a "fundamental strategic priority" and seeks "sustained dialogue on the new regional and global challenges."