EU Warns Iraq It Faces a 'Last Chance' to Disarm Peacefully

BRUSSELS, Belgium - European leaders united Monday behind a strongly worded declaration Monday warning Iraq that it faced a "last chance" to disarm peacefully and affirming solidarity with the United States.

The declaration by 15 European Union leaders gave firm backing for the U.S. and British demand for swift action to disarm Iraq. But it 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," the leaders said in a joint declaration.

The final declaration demanded Iraq's immediate and full compliance with demands to disarm, without setting a deadline.

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.

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 Gulf credit for forcing Saddam Hussein to work with United Nations 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 UN 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 UN Security Council.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said time was running out and the EU must set limits on how much longer it will allow Iraq to remain defiant.

"I think most people understand ... if that (disarming) cannot be done peacefully, it must be done by force," Blair said. "That's why we require a timetable," he said.

The United States says it may seek a second UN resolution authorizing force against Iraq, but it is not indispensable. Blair, who faces strong domestic opposition to war, wants a second resolution, but also says it is not strictly necessary.

European parliamentary leaders, who met with UN 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.

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.

The disunity within Europe was reflected at NATO headquarters, where Belgium, France and Germany had held out for a month against 14 European allies - as well as the United States and Canada - over starting defensive measures to protect Turkey in case of an Iraq war. Turkey is the only NATO member that borders Iraq.

Germany and Belgium dropped their objections for a deal late Sunday, but only after NATO went to its Defense Planning Committee, which does not include France.

U.S. official says Syria, Iran will be dealt with after Iraq war U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said in meetings with Israeli officials on Monday that he has no doubt America will attack Iraq, and that it will be necessary to deal with threats from Syria, Iran and North Korea afterwards.

Bolton, who is undersecretary for arms control and international security, is in Israel for meetings about preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

In a meeting with Bolton on Monday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that Israel is concerned about the security threat posed by Iran. It's important to deal with Iran even while American attention is turned toward Iraq, Sharon said.

Bolton also met with Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Housing and Construction Minister Natan Sharansky.

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