The European Union's top leaders, signaling they would resist an autonomous U.S. military administration for Iraq, called today for the United Nations to have a central role there "during and after the current crisis" and for Iraq to have a "representative government."
On the first day of a two-day summit here, the 15-nation EU sought to set aside deep divisions over the U.S.-led war in Iraq by focusing on what would come after a presumed victory that toppled the government of President Saddam Hussein.
"With the beginning of the military conflict, we are faced with a new situation," began a two-page formal statement on Iraq issued by the summit of heads of state.
Agreement was reached in an unusually chilly atmosphere at the summit, attended by key leaders on opposite sides of the issue. On the side supporting the war were the British prime minister, Tony Blair, and Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of Spain, while the antiwar contingent was led by France's president, Jacques Chirac, and the German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder.
Passionate differences over the war have created one of the gravest foreign policy crises in the EU's history. The statement avoided any mention of whether the war was justified, after objections from France, Belgium and other countries led to deletion of a paragraph designed to put the blame solely on Iraq.
Two points in the document, taken together, indicated the EU would oppose establishment of a U.S. military administration to run Iraq unless it were set up in a U.N. framework, according to EU diplomats.
"We believe that the U.N. must continue to play a central role during and after the current crisis," the statement said. It also said the EU wants "to effectively contribute to the conditions allowing all Iraqis to live in freedom, dignity and prosperity under a representative government."
Many European governments are concerned about reports that the United States plans to establish a military government in Iraq. While the United States has stressed such an administration would only be temporary, the Europeans fear such an arrangement would resemble colonialism.
"The message is implicit" that the EU opposes a U.S. military government, a European diplomat said. "Even a temporary military administration has to be done in a U.N. framework."
EU leaders also called for the Security Council to give the United Nations "a strong mandate" for coordinating assistance to Iraq after the war ends. That was interpreted as a sign that EU members would seek a new Security Council resolution for that purpose, despite the bitter disagreement over whether to endorse a new Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.
"We want the U.N. to manage the whole process," said the Greek prime minister, Costas Simitis, who chaired the summit because Greece currently holds the presidency under the EU's rotating system.
The EU Commission, or executive body, has already set aside $22 million for humanitarian aid for Iraq this year. Its aid chief, Poul Nielsen, appealed today to EU governments and the European Parliament for more than $100 million in additional aid.
The long-scheduled summit, held by coincidence less than 24 hours after the first attacks in Iraq, was supposed to focus on long-term plans to revive Europe's lagging economies. The agenda was changed so the leaders could discuss Iraq tonight and deal with economic issues on Friday.
The leaders apparently were making an effort to avoid confrontation. Blair and Chirac shook hands after the sides agreed to the statement, according to the Reuters news agency, but a participant said there were "no hugs, no smiles," as there usually are at such summits. The atmosphere was tense in part because of a sharply worded exchange Wednesday between British and French officials.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin telephoned his British counterpart, Jack Straw, to criticize Britain's assertions that French opposition alone had killed the U.N. resolution to authorize use of force against the Iraqi government. The French maintain that a wide majority of the Security Council opposed the resolution.
"The words used [by Britain] are not worthy of a country which is both a friend and a European partner. This presentation of events is inconsistent with the facts and will mislead no one," de Villepin said.
Britain did not back down, as Blair's spokesman reiterated the British view that France had encouraged Hussein. "If you neuter the threat, you embolden the tyrant," he said.