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EU: Common Foreign Policy At Stake At Emergency Iraq Summit

European Union leaders will gather in Brussels on 17 February for an emergency summit on Iraq. The summit was called this week by the EU's current Greek presidency to coordinate action in the coming crucial weeks. By all appearances, however, bringing even a semblance of cohesion to the bloc's response seems a Herculean task, given that the block is split in its views toward war.

Brussels, 14 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- All but the kindest observers are writing off the 17 February European Union summit on Iraq as an inevitable failure. Those not inclined to kindness at all predict an embarrassing display.

This is because core EU members span the entire spectrum of views toward the idea of a U.S.-led war against Iraq.

Britain upholds the U.S. conviction that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is in "material breach" of UN Security Council Resolution 1441 and has said it would join the United States in a war.

Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Denmark signed a letter two weeks ago proclaiming their support for the United States, as did Britain.

At the other extreme, Germany has said it will not support a war under any circumstances. Yesterday, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told the Bundestag, the lower chamber of Germany's parliament, that Iraq is not in "material breach."

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told the Bundestag that war must not become a means of international politics. And he offered an assessment of the threat posed by Iraq that contradicted the conclusions made by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at the UN Security Council on 5 February: "Iraq definitely does not possess nuclear weapons. It definitely does not possess wide-ranging launch systems that could carry arms that it doesn't have to the target. There are indications that it is possible that Iraq might be in a position to produce other weapons of mass destruction, and for that reason we said -- and herein lies the essential reasoning -- we said that the inspectors who are working there have to work there longer so that we know whether and, if so, what Iraq possesses. And we have to make sure that if Iraq has such weapons, they are destroyed under the terms of Resolution 1441."

Although it has not foreclosed its options as Germany has, France, too, appears firmly opposed to war. France is said to have been the main obstacle at this week's inconclusive talks at NATO on whether the alliance can begin contingency planning for Turkey to protect it in the event of war.

Belgium, Luxembourg, and Greece are known to sympathize with France, Belgium, and Germany.

It appears that the EU's Greek presidency has taken a deliberate risk by bringing the bloc's leaders and foreign ministers to Brussels. Knowing the depth of the rift within the EU, Greek representatives say the EU could enter a deep crisis if the meeting does not succeed in forging a common approach.

At this stage, one unknown that remains is the update to be presented by chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix today to the UN Security Council in New York. Germany and France will find themselves on the spot should Blix say Iraq is not cooperating satisfactorily with the inspectors.

On the other hand, should Blix deliver a positive message, Britain and other U.S. allies will be put under pressure. In this context, France and Germany have proposed a plan in which the number of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq would be doubled or tripled and regular surveillance flights over Iraq be put in place.

It is difficult -- if not impossible -- to see how the two sides can be reconciled.

To guarantee themselves the best possible advice, the EU's Greek presidency has invited UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to attend the summit. Annan has reportedly accepted.

In situations like these, the EU normally opts for attempting to mask discord by adopting a noncommittal "lowest-common denominator" position. This hardly seems a viable option, given the fate of the EU's last common position on Iraq. That position was adopted by the bloc's foreign ministers in late January but instantly punctured by the five EU members who signed a letter in support of U.S. policy on Iraq.

One possible course of action would be building on the fact that even Britain prefers that the UN pass a second resolution before Iraq is attacked. This, however, would necessitate a commitment from France to refrain from opposing the second resolution. France is one of the EU's two veto-wielding members on the UN Security Council, together with Britain.

Many French analysts doubt that President Jacques Chirac can afford to make that promise, however, given the animosity of French public opinion to war.

Perhaps in a sign of things to come, the EU's 10 new members-to-be were invited this week to attend the summit, only to have the invitation withdrawn the same day. They have now been told to arrive in Brussels on 18 February for a "briefing" on the EU's decision.

News agencies say Germany and France decided at the last moment that the inclusion of the 10 -- known to be sympathetic to U.S. policy on Iraq -- would not be desirable.