Brussels, 5 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- EU leaders sought to reaffirm their support for a stable and democratic Iraq today after talks with Baghdad's U.S.-backed interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Europe's strongest backer of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, told reporter after meeting privately with Allawi that the EU appears ready to work with Washington to stabilize Iraq.
"We have a situation now where President Bush has been reelected," Blair said. "He is there now for the next four years. And my sense -- just in talking to European leaders here overnight -- is that people do understand that this is the reality, and it's important that we work with the Americans and, of course, with the Iraqi government to bring that stability to Iraq."
In its official summit statement, the EU said it would provide a further 30 million euros ($39 million) to support preparations for Iraqi elections scheduled for January. The EU intends to provide experts to assist Iraq's Electoral Commission and help train domestic observers.
EU member states also say they are prepared to "contribute substantially" to the financing of the UN protection force. But details remain to be worked out. EU treaties do not allow its communal funds to be used for direct military expenditure.
Allawi urged EU leaders to focus on the present task of rebuilding Iraq and to forget about past differences.
Despite the upbeat tone in Brussels, long-standing European differences with the Iraq war still managed to cast a shadow over the talks with Allawi, which were held during a two-day summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
EU leaders deleted a phrase from their summit statement explicitly welcoming Allawi. Diplomats say France pushed for the deletion to reflect displeasure over remarks made by Allawi yesterday.
Speaking in Rome, Allawi had labeled "spectators" those countries that opposed the Iraq war.
French President Jacques Chirac, who strongly opposed the war, left the summit today before Allawi's arrival. French officials denied it was a snub, but EU diplomats begged to differ.
Allawi sought to calm anger over his remarks, urging EU leaders to focus on the present task of rebuilding Iraq and to forget about past differences.
Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, whose country holds the rotating EU Presidency, appeared to agree with that sentiment today when he spoke to reporters after talks with Allawi.
"What we should do is to look towards the future [and] forget about the past," Bot said. "What is very important is that we give also the signal that we are interested in Iraq, that we are willing to help to construct the country. We have proposed a package, and I think it is a very positive package. What is important now is that we start this dialogue and continue it on the highest possible level."
The EU statement says the bloc will send a team of experts to Iraq in November to prepare the ground for a possible integrated "police, rule of law, and civilian administration mission" after the elections. EU officials say, however, that security concerns could dissuade many member states from sending personnel to Iraq.
Earlier today, Allawi urged ambassadors at NATO headquarters to rapidly expand NATO training of Iraqi security forces, warning that delays could cost lives.
Speaking later alongside Blair, Allawi appeared to link the success of the elections to the ongoing operations to subdue insurgents in Al-Falluja and elsewhere.
"We are going to win in our war against terrorism and we are going to move the democratic process forward in Iraq, until we get the elections in January successfully," Allawi said.
The EU also held out the prospect of an extensive cooperation agreement with Iraq -- once a fully legitimate government takes office after the elections.
Iraq is entitled to benefit from the EU's general "system of preferences" easing trade, but still lacks the structures required by the bloc to do so.