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EU concern at regime change goal

Inspectors pulled out of Iraq ahead of airstrikes in 1998
Inspectors pulled out of Iraq ahead of airstrikes in 1998

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U.N. authorities open talks with Iraqi officials on the return of inspectors following a four-year absence. CNN's Chris Burns reports (September 30)
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BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Several European Union foreign ministers have dismissed U.S. calls for a "regime change" in Baghdad and stressed that the United Nations must be the driving force behind efforts to disarm Iraq.

France, a veto-holding member of the U.N. Security Council, again said it was opposed to a draft resolution threatening the use of force against Iraq and said setting "regime change," or toppling President Saddam Hussein, as a goal would violate international law.

"We do not want to give carte blanche to military action," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin wrote in the newspaper Le Monde as EU foreign ministers met in Brussels on Monday to discuss Iraq and the Middle East conflict.

"We cannot accept a resolution authorising as of now the recourse to force without (the issue) coming back to the U.N. Security Council," he said.

The meeting came as the chief U.N. weapons inspector met Iraqi officials in Vienna to establish "practical arrangements" for the inspectors' return after a four-year absence. (Full story)

Meanwhile, United States and Britain were lobbying the other permanent members of the Security Council for a new resolution that would give Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein seven days to comply with disarmament demands.

Russia and China, as well as France, any one of which could veto a U.N. resolution, have expressed reservations about the U.S.-British proposal threatening to use "all necessary means" unless Iraq declares its alleged weapons of mass destruction and complies fully with new U.N. arms inspections.

Diplomats said UK Minister for Europe Peter Hain briefed EU colleagues on efforts to persuade doubters to accept a strong resolution, arguing the United Nations must be allowed to stay in control.

"If we want to keep the issue in the U.N. framework, then the U.N. has to act firmly," one told Reuters.

He said Moscow seemed to have backed away from saying there was no need for a new resolution but sought to tone down the U.S. draft and avoid any green light for military action.

Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel led the charge against any military strike to overthrow Saddam. "I am totally against an attack, I cannot support it," Michel told reporters on arrival at the EU meeting.

Some senior members in the U.S. government have argued for war to remove Saddam, with or without U.N. approval, saying a renewal of U.N. weapons inspections would provide false comfort.

"If the conclusions of the arms inspectors are positive and prove that there really is a danger with weapons of mass destruction, then the U.N. Security Council will decide (what to do), but not now," Michel said.

Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh echoed his remarks. "It is only a question concerning weapons of mass destruction. We all reject Saddam Hussein, but the question is not to remove the regime, the question is to get rid of the weapons of mass destruction and that should be our common position," Reuters quoted her as saying.

"I can accept that Saddam Hussein is a terrible dictator, but it is not the objective of the U.N. to get rid of him. The objective and the goal is to get rid of the weapons of mass destruction," Lindh said.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said his government's opposition to any military action against Iraq and refusal to take part in such a war had not changed, despite Bush administration charges that it has "poisoned" U.S.-German ties.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana played down the differences between the United States and Britain on the one hand and the other 14 EU members, stressing the key role of the United Nations in resolving the conflict.

"The U.N. route has to be continued... Europe is not divided on this point," Solana said.

Michel said he feared that military action against Iraq would further inflame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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