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EU dodges issue of Iraq

EU dodges issue of Iraq


BARCELONA, Spain -- There was evidence of a split over the issue of possible military action against Iraq when Europe's leader met for a summit.

Although the issue was not formally on the agenda of the gathering in Barcelona, the subject was raised by several delegates.

Belgium unsuccessfully attempted to raise Iraq over dinner on Friday evening.

"I think (Iraq) is a touchy subject, but that is no reason not to discuss it," Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel said.

"I think Europe will have to address the matter, even if we don't want to," he told Reuters, confirming that Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt had tried to raise it at dinner.

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British Prime Minister Tony Blair said it was too early to discuss the issue because no decisions had yet been made.

"We are not at the stage of taking decisions. That is why the issue was not discussed," Blair told a news conference on Saturday.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said he believed the EU should have discussed the subject.

"I regret that sometimes these summits spend too much time on small details at the expense of getting to grips with the key issues," said Schroeder.

Asked why they avoided the issue, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique -- whose country hosted the summit -- said the leaders had had too much else to discuss.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said: "I hope the war against terrorism does not widen, it should not widen to other fronts besides the current Afghanistan front."

Belgium's Michel said: "I'm not saying there is no reason for the Americans (to take action). Maybe they have reasons to do it. But I think we need an explanation and we also need a decision from the U.N Security Council."

French President Jacques Chirac said: "I think Iraqi leaders would be well advised to take seriously the U.N. Security Council prescriptions."

Earlier on Saturday, European Commission President Romano Prodi warned that the EU might oppose American-led military action against Iraq.

Asked by the BBC if the EU would oppose military action, he replied: "It is possible, but we are not talking about possibilities."

He added: "I am worried about future possible American action in Iraq and the necessity for explanations and knowledge on the deep reasons for that."

In an interview with the Tagesspiegel newspaper released Saturday, German Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping said "we need the most comprehensive possible political pressure" on Iraq.

He added that "anyone who begins at the military end is beginning at the wrong end."

The EU leaders did not formally discuss Iraq
The EU leaders did not formally discuss Iraq  

As far as Germany is concerned, he said, "military capabilities are a last resort -- and play no part in this issue."

Iraq, meanwhile, said it is confident that the United States will not attack it in the face

of reservations from Arab and European countries.

"They won't do it," Iraqi trade minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh told the German magazine Der Spiegel.

"Neither Europe, nor still less the Arab world, will stand for such a policy from the United States."

Saleh insisted that Arab states want "to prevent an attack on us -- at any price. They're all behind us."