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EU leaders build bridges over Iraq

Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, left, and Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs at EU accession signing
Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, left, and Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs at EU accession signing

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ATHENS, Greece -- European Union leaders vowed to put differences over the Iraq war behind them as they met to formally accept 10 new members into the bloc.

Members meeting in Athens Wednesday said they were willing to work together and alongside the United States to rebuild Iraq after the war -- an issue which had exposed deep divisions among current and future EU members.

While politicians at the summit sought harmony, police arrested 106 anti-Iraq war demonstrators after two hours of clashes in central Athens, several hundred meters from the summit. (Full story)

"This Union represents our common determination to put an end to centuries of conflict and to transcend former divisions on our continent," said the declaration drawn up by Greece, which holds the EU's rotating presidency.

Many of the mostly ex-communist central and east European countries joining the EU supported the United States and Britain in the military campaign against former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, drawing a harsh rebuke at the time from French President Jacques Chirac, the war's leading opponent.

Omitting a clause which read "In the wake of the war in Iraq," the EU statement said: "We are committed to facing up to our global responsibilities. We will support conflict prevention, promote justice, help secure peace and defend global stability.

"We are determined to work at all levels to tackle global terrorism and stem the weapons of mass destruction."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair met Chirac Wednesday for the first time since the war, and the two agreed on the need for rapid Iraqi humanitarian aid, with the French president urging a swift EU-funded airlift of seriously injured Iraqi children for treatment in European hospitals.

Security Council members France, Britain, Spain and Germany are also working on a joint statement on the U.N.'s post-war Iraq role, and were meeting U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan who was in Athens.

"The U.N. is the sole body with the competence and legitimacy to find a way out of the crisis," said Chirac, adding that immediate security remained the responsibility of the alliance.

Chirac met with his pro-war opponents at the EU summit.
Chirac met with his pro-war opponents at the EU summit.

CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley said: "This was the 'Big Bang' enlargement, it was the fulfillment of a dream that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall back in 1989.

"The members remain divided by attitudes on the war in Iraq, but they do seem to be now rather varying those attitudes and trying to concentrate on getting help to the Iraqi people. The essence for the EU leaders is that the U.N. should be at the center of things."

Leaders of Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, signed the accession treaty.

The 10 nations will join the EU in May 2004, once all existing members have approved the enlargement process and each of the applicant countries have held referendums.

Hungary voted last weekend in favor of joining. (Hungary votes in favor) Ireland voted "yes" last year to the enlargement process. (Full Story)

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