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EU: Foreign Ministers Find Global Ambitions Difficult To Implement

The European Union yesterday unveiled the first few pages of its first-ever global "security strategy." The document was presented by EU security policy chief Javier Solana in Luxembourg at a meeting of the bloc's foreign ministers. It brings the EU's security concerns broadly in line with that of the United States. The bloc now sanctions the use of force to fight the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. But it remains to be seen if the EU will be able to translate words into action on issues like Iran's nuclear program.

Brussels, 17 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- With its economic muscle, the European Union should be entitled to play a significant global role, especially after enlargement. But in reality, such a role has yet to materialize -- something that has perplexed and annoyed EU policymakers.

Javier Solana, the bloc's security policy chief, yesterday presented the EU's first-ever security strategy by saying the European Union must assume greater responsibility for world events.

"This document starts off from recognizing that a European Union with 25 members [and] a population of [450] million people producing a quarter of the [world's] GDP cannot close its eyes to what is going on in the world. Therefore, it has to be an important global actor," Solana said.

Solana -- who yesterday received the support of the EU's foreign ministers -- has apparently decided that the road to relevance lies in broadly embracing Washington's view of the world and its security threats.

At the heart of the new EU strategy, therefore, is concern over the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In Solana's words, the EU is now poised to be "really concerned about one of the most important security problems of our time."

To demonstrate the seriousness of their intent, the bloc is now sanctioning the use of military force against countries conducting illicit WMD programs.

But Solana's document says force is to be used only as a "last resort" and would need to be authorized by the UN Security Council.

The ministers yesterday discouraged any speculation about where and when such military force might be necessary, and were noticeably disinclined to name names.

This is in contrast to the United States, which has recently focused its sights on Iran. Washington has accused Tehran of attempting to develop nuclear weapons.

The EU has followed suit in demanding that Iran allow UN inspectors to examine its nuclear facilities. But some of the ministers at yesterday's Luxembourg meeting did not appear willing to say that Iran might actually force the bloc to put its stated security strategy into practice.

Asked if the European Union would support possible U.S. military action against Iran, Foreign Minister George Papandreou of the current EU president, Greece, said: "If you combine texts in the EU you can get any results you like." He later added that the EU was interested in "credible ideas" that would not lead to "the type of situation we had in Iraq."

News agencies quoted German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer as saying that "basic principles will never be applied directly but must be adapted to concrete situations."

It was left to Solana to answer the question more directly. He said military action is not on the EU's immediate agenda, and that the bloc is looking instead to improve monitoring and inspection mechanisms.

"The proliferation of WMD requires the enforcement of regimes, it requires agreements that have to be complied with, it requires many many things. I don't know why we have to go immediately from proliferation to military action. We are not in that scheme, we are in a scheme of trying to solve the problems without the need of the last resort, which is [force]. But it is very important that we, the EU, make WMD proliferation the priority of our agenda. And we do, because we have done risk assessments. There are too many countries now thinking about the proliferation of WMD. And this is a problem not for country A or country B or country C, but for all the countries that do not have WMD and do not intend to use it," Solana said.

The use of EU military force against Iran may not be a factor in the short term. But the bloc does appear to be on the verge of re-thinking its "positive engagement" policy on Tehran.

When the EU launched talks with Iran last autumn, officials were careful to stress that political accord should not be a precondition for fruitful trade ties.

This has now changed. Chris Patten, the EU's external affairs commissioner, yesterday left no doubt that the future of the bloc's trade relations with Iran depends on Tehran's cooperation on nuclear and human rights issues.

"Each of the sets of the discussions we're having is linked to the others. And it follows from that, that if we start to feel we're not making sufficient progress in an area which we regard as very important, then we won't be able to continue discussion in other areas," Patten said.

Patten underscored his message by noting that the EU will schedule future meetings with Iran only according to Tehran's "progress." He also said the bloc will reserve the right to take its complaints about Iran's human rights record to the United Nations.