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EU: Leaders 'Regret' War, Prepare For Reconstruction

The war against Iraq has been moved to the top of the agenda of the European Union today in Brussels. Many EU leaders have condemned the war, but discussion now centers on the provision of humanitarian aid and preparations for postconflict reconstruction.

Brussels, 20 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A string of EU leaders today condemned the war against Iraq, launched today by the U.S. and Britain with the support of a minority of EU countries.

Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, speaking for the current EU presidency, said the bloc's summit -- which begins today in Brussels -- will take place "in the shadow of war."

Earlier today, Simitis sent a letter to EU governments, announcing changes to the initial plans for the summit, which was intended to focus on economic reform and the EU's future constitution.

Speaking in Brussels before the summit, Simitis echoed positions adopted by Germany, France, and Belgium, among others, saying he "deeply regrets" the breakout of war. He stressed that military operations in Iraq must be finished as soon as possible and with as little loss of civilian life as possible so that reconstruction work can begin.

Simitis said the EU's Greek presidency is preparing a joint declaration on Iraq. Greek officials say it would not offer an outright condemnation of the war, as this would be vetoed by a number of member states led by Britain.

Instead, the EU's joint efforts are expected to address the postconflict situation in Iraq.

The EU's humanitarian aid commissioner, Poul Nielson, said contingency planning for humanitarian relief is already underway.

"The European Commission is ready to face up to this challenge by delivering humanitarian aid in line with internationally established principles of neutrality and impartiality."

Nielson said the EU has already earmarked 15 million euros for Iraq this year. He said another 6 million euros could be dispatched within 24 hours to cover basic needs such as health, food, water, sanitation, and tents. The funds would be distributed via the United Nations' refugee agency, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, as well as other selected nongovernmental organizations.

Nielson said the European Commission would ask the EU member states to release further funds from the EU's 250 million euro emergency reserves. He estimated that around 100 million euros are needed to fund the immediate emergency response in Iraq.

Speaking at an emergency session of the European Parliament this morning, the EU's external affairs commissioner, Chris Patten, said the EU will extend its emergency humanitarian response to neighboring Syria, Iran and Jordan.

Patten said he is "extremely pleased" that the EU has actively pursued a policy of dialogue with Iran -- an approach criticized by the United States -- which, he said, now makes "considerable sense."

Patten also stressed any EU aid to Iraq must be administered under a United Nations' mandate -- a line likely to be endorsed by EU leaders today and tomorrow. He said that after the war, Iraq should be run like East Timor, Kosovo or Afghanistan -- in the reconstruction of all of which the UN has played a lead role.

Patten went further in his speech, warning that the world faces a choice in the coming months between relapsing to what he called a 19th century-style rivalry of national sovereignties, with the resulting dangers, or "rebuilding" the institutions of global governance which were "so painfully constructed over the past 50 years." Although Patten, among others, has warned it would be difficult to exact funds for reconstruction in Iraq from the EU if a war is launched without UN backing, it is likely that that position will be modified on condition the UN is given the lead role in postwar Iraq.