Thursday, April 17, 2003


Great little story about Chirac's discovery that he was not invited to the post-game party. Someone should tell him to dial 1-800-STAY-HOME.

France left out of Iraq stability force
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Paris
(Filed: 17/04/2003)

The rift in Europe over Iraq reopened last night after America's friends began to assemble a stabilisation force to back coalition troops, but left out France.

Asked about the plan at the European Union summit in Athens, Jacques Chirac, the French president, expressed surprise.

"I do not know anything about this proposal," he said, adding that he did not think such a force would be "an essential part of the solution of the problem" in Iraq.

He was speaking a day after he had a 20-minute conversation with President George W Bush to try to repair relations with Washington.

Denmark's staunchly pro-American prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said that Washington had asked him to put together a 3,000-strong stabilisation force as quickly as possible to patrol Iraqi cities.

Mr Rasmussen said that Spain, Italy, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were ready to help and that others were coming around. Italy has approved the dispatch of 1,000 paramilitary policemen.

"Everyone realises that the international community and also the EU states have to make contributions across the board, both on stabilising the situation in the short term, but also on reconstruction in the long term."

The move coincided with a call by Mr Bush to the United Nations Security Council to lift the 12-year sanctions regime on Iraq.

He said: "Iraq should be able to trade freely and we need to transition from the oil-for-food programme as soon as possible and help restore a normal trading relationship with the global economy."

The move increased pressure on the anti-war powers to turn their declarations of support for a post-war government into reality.

Before the EU summit, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, warned France, Germany and Russia that the United Nations would be sidelined again if they refused to co-operate with the coalition.

Fogh Rasmussen said: "I would be surprised if we run into a negative approach, because what we are talking about is making it easier for the Iraqis themselves to have a democratic government."

Gathering at their first EU summit since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the anti-war bloc faces the fresh dilemma of whether to help restore Europe's shattered unity and heal the rift with Washington, or reinforce an obstructionist role that is becoming more costly by the day in political terms.

Russia and Germany started to distance themselves from the anti-war coalition over the weekend. There were signs yesterday that M Chirac was also at last looking for a way out of the impasse.

In his first face-to-face meeting with Tony Blair since the war began, he turned on the charm in a 20-minute chat, promising to support the Anglo-American forces in their goal of handing over a pacified Iraq to an interim authority led by Iraqis.

M Chirac's spokesman, Catherine Colonna, said it had been a very positive meeting.

She said: "Issue by issue, we have to find the right balance between the role of the UN, which must be the essential role, and the American and British forces on the ground."

As a first gesture, M Chirac floated the idea of an EU airlift to evacuate wounded children for medical treatment in Europe.

As the two men met, thousands of Greek leftists clashed with riot police in nearby Syntagma Square, leaving the air filled with the tear gas so familiar to EU summits.

Up to 100 people also took over the British Airways office to protest at Mr Blair's presence in the city. Others hurled petrol bombs at the British, Spanish and Italian embassies.

Asked what he felt about provoking demonstrations said to be the worst in Greece for 30 years, Mr Blair said: "It is an important democratic right that people have in Europe that they can take to the streets.

"It is a right the people in Iraq have today but did not have for 30 years."

The Prime Minister repeated that there should be "an important role for the UN" both in humanitarian relief and the reconstruction of Iraq. But the real priority was for the Iraqi people to take charge of their destiny.

At a brain-storming session on the new European constitution, most of the leaders backed the creation of a "foreign minister" to prevent a repetition of the humiliating cacophony over Iraq.

But there was less support for plans pushed by Mr Blair for a full-time president in Brussels who could give "strategic direction" and provide a negotiating partner for the American president.

"We need someone the White House can call," a British official said.


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