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European Union Warns Iraq it Faces "Last Chance" to Disarm

European Union Warns Iraq it Faces "Last Chance" to Disarm

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BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- European leaders tried to mend their bitter dispute over Iraq on Monday by calling for more time for U.N. inspectors to disarm Iraq, but warning Baghdad it faced one "last chance" to disarm peacefully.

The declaration appeared to continue the division that has split the European Union, with France and Germany opposing any imminent military action against Baghdad.

The United States and Britain, its chief ally in the EU, are pushing for swift action to disarm Iraq, claiming that Saddam Hussein has no intention of complying peacefully.

France and Germany, who oppose war, appeared to emerge in a strong position Monday night after the EU statement backed more time for the U.N. weapon inspectors, without giving a deadline.

"They must be given the time and resources that the U.N. Security Council believes they need," the declaration said.

Blair Convinced of Breach

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was convinced that Iraq was already in breach of U.N. resolutions to disarm, but other EU nations appeared to need time to reach the same decision.

"There's still a lot of debate to be had on that issue," Blair said.

Blair also appeared to be backing away from a push for a second U.N. resolution to endorse military action against Iraq. He said the earlier resolution demanding Iraq disarm made a convincing case for tough action.

The leaders agreed that Iraq must disarm, but said "war is not inevitable." The declaration also recognized the Franco-German drive for a peaceful solution, calling war "a last resort."

"Baghdad should have no illusions. It must disarm and cooperate immediately and fully. The Iraqi regime alone will be responsible for the consequences if it continues to flout the will of the international community and does not take this last chance," the leaders said in a joint declaration.

However, it did not contain the phrase, pushed by Britain, that "time is running out."

"That was not acceptable for us," German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told reporters.

Military Buildup Credited

Seeking not only to mend rifts in the European Union, but also with the United States, the leaders also gave the American military buildup in the Persian Gulf credit for forcing Saddam to work with U.N. weapons inspectors.

"We are committed to working with all our partners, especially the United States, for the disarmament of Iraq, for peace and stability in the region," the leaders said.

Earlier the summit appeared heading for a rupture after France declared it would block any early move to war.

With the split undermining EU unity and its ability to speak with a single voice, Britain and France offered starkly different views, with London calling for a swift deadline for action and Paris insisting on more time to peacefully disarm Iraq.

President Jacques Chirac said France would oppose any effort to draft a new U.N. resolution authorizing war at this time. France, Germany and others say Iraq can be disarmed peacefully and must be given time.

"There is no need for a second resolution today, which France would have no choice but to oppose," said Chirac. France has a veto on the U.N. Security Council.

The United States says it may seek a second U.N. resolution authorizing force against Iraq, but it is not indispensable.

European parliamentary leaders, who met with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan before he entered the summit, said Annan stressed, however, that he did not want the weapons inspections to go on too long.

Europeans Stand by U.S. Relationships

The split had threatened the EU's ability to forge a foreign and security policy. France and others want the EU to be a major power that can counter the United States, but most European nations are reluctant to give up control of their foreign policy, especially direct ties with Washington.

France, which has long wanted to regain global power by leading a united Europe, has led the opposition to Washington's drive for a war on Iraq. Chirac has claimed that he speaks for the people of Europe, over the heads of some of their own governments, which back Washington.

"We all know that this is about the matter of Iraq, but it's also about the matter of Europe," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said.

Italy spoke for the EU states that don't want to trade their close ties with the United States. "Our policy is based on two pillars: the cohesion of the European Union and a strong relationship with the United States," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said.

Opponents of war believe their position was strengthened when millions of people marched in cities around the world Saturday to oppose war. Still, the United States and Britain, the two allies that have committed massive forces to the Gulf, show no sign of backing off.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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