World briefs 12/13/02

Friday, December 13, 2002

Iraq invites U.N. envoy to find missing Kuwaitis

UNITED NATIONS -- Iraq has lifted a ban on visits by a U.N. envoy charged with trying to resolve disputes stemming from its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, U.N. officials said Thursday.

In a letter to the United Nations, Iraq invited envoy Yuli Vorontsov to visit Baghdad for the first time, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said. No date was set for the trip.

Vorontsov was appointed in February 2000 by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to persuade Iraq to return property seized by its forces during the invasion and to account for hundreds of missing Kuwaitis.

But Baghdad refused to allow Vorontsov into the country, claiming he was hostile to Iraq. Annan said the criticism of the envoy was groundless.

Vatican urges Christmas access to Bethlehem

VATICAN CITY -- Israel's president promised the pope during a meeting Thursday that the army will redeploy outside the pilgrim city of Bethlehem during Christmas if there are no warnings of terrorist attacks, the Israeli embassy said.

The Vatican, in talks with President Moshe Katsav, had urged Israel to allow "free access" during the holiday season in Bethlehem, where Israeli troops are patrolling Manger Square after occupying the town.

Katsav, making the first visit by an Israeli head of state to the Vatican, met with Pope John Paul II and the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

The military occupation of Bethlehem, the town where tradition holds Christ was born, is Israel's third in recent months as troops hunt for Palestinian militants believed behind suicide bombings in Israel.

EU struggles with snags in expansion

COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- European Union leaders struggled Thursday to overcome last-minute snags to the EU's largest expansion at a summit aimed at overcoming the legacy of the Cold War by bringing in eight formerly communist nations.

The landmark meeting also gave an answer to Turkey's demands to be included in the EU's longer-term expansion plans: Talks could start as early as December 2004, said Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the summit host.

If EU leaders decide then that Turkey has made sufficient progress on democracy, human rights and economic stability, "then accession negotiations can begin as soon as possible," he told a news conference after midnight.

The plan to invite Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to join the EU in 2004, along with Cyprus and Malta, marks the culmination of years of work to unite the continent after more than four decades of Iron Curtain division.

The historic expansion has hit a snag over financial issues.

Poland is leading the candidates in demanding more, insisting the EU must be more generous with subsidies to its farmers and aid to build roads, phone lines and other infrastructure to help the easterners catch up with their richer western neighbors.

-- From wire reports

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