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EU: Leaders Leave Options Open On U.S. Retaliation

European Union leaders met at an emergency summit in Brussels last night to discuss their reaction to last week's terror attacks in the United States. Although they expressed their full support for U.S. retaliation, EU heads of government hinted that it should be precise and limited, and that in the longer term, the fight against terrorism should be taken over by the United Nations. RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent Ahto Lobjakas reports.

Brussels, 22 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union's unscheduled summit last night (Friday) was mostly spent in discussions of how to demonstrate the EU's fullest possible solidarity with the United States without giving Washington "carte blanche" -- that is, a free hand -- to respond to the attacks without restraint.

The declaration that emerged from last night's discussions is a deliberately loose document that allows for different interpretations.

On the one hand, the document assures the United States of full and unconditional EU solidarity. EU leaders describe last week's attacks as an assault on *our open, democratic, tolerant, multi-cultural societies," and say that the EU will cooperate with the United States to bring the perpetrators to justice.

In a key phrase, the EU leaders declare: "On the basis of United States Security Council resolution 1368, a riposte by the U.S. is legitimate." The resolution condemns the attacks as a "threat to international security and peace" and calls on all states to jointly fight terrorism.

The EU leaders also say that U.S. attacks may be directed against states "abetting, supporting or harboring terrorists."

Then come the qualifications. First, the declaration says any U.S. action must be "targeted." It then goes on to say that any action will require "close cooperation with all the member states of the European Union." In the French version of the text --equally authoritative -- the need for "close cooperation" is replaced by the more restrictive demand for "close consultation."

It was left to Belgium's Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt -- who represents the EU's current presidency -- to explain the intricacies of the wording. He appeared unable to clearly say, however, whether the EU expects to be consulted by the U.S. before military action is taken. He said that what is important is that "we make it clear that in every case, the steps that we take will be discussed by all the member states of the EU, and this applies to all the elements [listed] in the paragraph."

Some EU leaders last night expressed their full support to any U.S. action.

According to the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, the EU's support for U.S. military action is unconditional. He said: "There is a clear recognition in the conclusions of the legitimacy of any ... military action which the U.S. takes."

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said that "the EU is showing not only verbal solidarity but also that it is ready to assist in necessary military measures."

French President Jacques Chirac was less concrete in his support, falling also short of offering outright military assistance to the United States. Chirac said that, "to be clear, we will not sit on the sidelines of this battle against this scourge."

According to neutral Finland's Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, last night's declaration means that each EU member state can now choose itself how it wants to assist the United States.

If in the short term the EU support for U.S. military action is clear, then in the long term the EU would like to see the fight against terrorism be put under the command of the United Nations. Yesterday's declaration calls for "the broadest possible global coalition" against terrorism led by the United Nations.

Belgium's Prime minister Verhofstadt urged other countries to join the EU and the United States. He said: "We appeal to accession candidates, the Russian Federation, and our Arab and Muslim partners to join in a global coalition under the aegis of the United Nations."

Yesterday's declaration also outlines an EU "action plan" for fighting terrorism. EU leaders committed their countries to adopt a common definition of terrorism and introduce a European arrest warrant by early December to facilitate the prosecution and extradition of terrorists. EU Justice and Home Affairs ministers are also instructed to draw up a common list of terrorist organizations.

EU leaders called on the United Nations to draw up a general convention against international terrorism.

The EU's 13 accession candidates were expected to sign the declaration over the weekend.

Belgian Prime Minister Verhofstadt said he will travel to the United States on Thursday to present the conclusions of the summit to the "highest authorities there."