EU candidates accept joint position on Iraq

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Future European Union members endorsed an EU position Tuesday warning Saddam Hussein he has one last chance to disarm, an effort to mend Europe's bitter rift over a possible U.S.-led war on Iraq.

Thirteen countries slated for EU membership next year backed the statement, a hard-fought agreement that -- though a compromise between pro-Washington nations and those who oppose using force to disarm Saddam Hussein -- gives Europe a common position.

EU leaders, who reached their resolution Monday in an emergency meeting, have been painfully aware that their prolonged and acrimonious split over Iraq has undermined their push for a strong, shared voice in world affairs.

In the joint statement, those who support the U.S. stance went along with France and Germany's insistence that the U.N. weapons inspectors "must be given the time and resources that the U.N. Security Council believes they need."

However, in language likely to please Washington, they acknowledged that "inspections cannot continue indefinitely."

The EU statement also stressed that "war is not inevitable." But Germany, which has fiercely opposed any talk of military action, agreed that force could be "a last resort" and went along with a strong warning on the failure to disarm and cooperate with the U.N. inspectors.

The EU declaration was endorsed by representatives of the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Malta.

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