27 January 2003
The European Union has issued a forceful call for Iraq to cooperate with United Nations weapons inspectors, while also indicating the inspectors may need more time to do their job.
In a statement, EU foreign ministers said Iraqi authorities must provide the inspectors, without delay, all additional and complete information on questions raised by the international community. However, the EU also welcomed the inspectors' plan to intensify their operations.
Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, welcomed the statement. "I believe that our conclusions today are a solid basis for both constructive and creative, and a concerted effort for a way forward, where our objective remains full disarmament, total cooperation of Iraq, peaceful resolution of the UN process, which is a possibility if the U.N. resolutions are complied with," he said.
Diplomats say there is a division within the EU over how to proceed on Iraq. Britain has followed the United States in sending troops to the Gulf, but France and Germany have been pushing for the inspectors to be given much more time.
U.S. and British officials say they have proof Baghdad is hiding banned weapons, laying it open to possible attack. But officials have been dropping hints that the inspectors may be given a few more weeks to pursue their work before Washington and London decide that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is not cooperating and the only option is war.
Analysts say Spain, Italy, Denmark and the Netherlands are viewed as close to the U.S.-British position on Iraq, but most of the other EU states are closer to the Franco-German line.
On another topic, the foreign ministers agreed, in principle, to prepare to send a high-level mission to North Korea to help avert a nuclear crisis. No date for the mission was given. That is to be decided after consultations with key players including Japan, China, South Korea and the United States. Washington wants North Korea to renounce its nuclear program.