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Middle East

EU seeks to heal division over Iraq

| Thursday, April 17, 2003

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Key European leaders proclaimed a leap forward for continental unity Wednesday, welcoming 10 members to the European Union and teaming up to urge a central United Nations role in postwar Iraq.

Seeking to end months of acrimony, Britain, France, Spain and Germany drafted a joint statement on the U.N. role in reconstructing Iraq and urged Washington to maintain law and order in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's ouster.

On the sidelines of a ceremony at which former Eastern bloc nations signed EU accession treaties, the four EU nations with seats on the U.N. Security Council also asked Washington to publish a long-delayed "road map" to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Officials said the aim was for the 15 current EU leaders, along with visiting Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, to endorse the statements on Iraq and the Middle East before the summit ends today.

French President Jacques Chirac said the initiative was a bid to outline principles for reconstructing and stabilizing Iraq "with a central role for the United Nations. We are all agreed on that."

The EU head office would take charge of organizing an airlift "so we can take the (war) wounded to European hospitals, notably children who cannot be adequately treated locally," Chirac said without providing any further details.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the statement was not meant as the basis for a U.N. resolution.

"What we are doing is talking about the new Iraq. We are trying to put behind us the argument about whether or not the coalition should have taken military action," he said.

The Iraq war weighed heavily on a landmark event for the European Union.

At a ceremony in the cradle of European democracy, Cyprus, Malta, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia signed treaties that will bring them into the European Union on May 1, 2004.

The 10 joining nations will bring 75 million people into the EU -- raising its population to 450 million. The newcomers' wealth ranges from barely 29 percent of the EU average in Lithuania to 85 percent in Cyprus.

The bloc's most daring expansion was accompanied by declarations of unity at a ceremony in a colonnaded museum below the Acropolis.

"The European Union is finally overcoming the division of the European continent into East and West, the political division of its states and the painful division of its people that arose as a result of World War II," German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said.

In streets nearby, several hundred anti-war protesters broke away from a peaceful demonstration by some 10,000 people to hurl gasoline bombs at police, torch banks and smash storefronts near the American and British embassies.

Police responded with tear gas. More than 100 people were detained.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also was in Athens, holding fast-paced meetings to narrow differences over the nature and timing of his organization's role in Iraq.

Officials said a consensus emerged to gradually give the world body, in addition to providing humanitarian aid, a say in the political and economic rebuilding of Iraq.

"Reconstruction needs to be under the umbrella of the U.N.," Schroeder said.

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