European peace efforts stepped up
BERLIN, Germany -- European efforts to avoid war in Iraq are intensifying as a crunch United Nations date looms.
Germany led calls on Sunday for the numbers of inspectors in the country to be increased but reports of a Franco-German plan to send in U.N. peacekeepers were denied.
And The Vatican has announced that Pope John Paul II is to send an envoy to Baghdad.
Vatican spokesman Jaoquin Navarro-Valls said Cardinal Roger Etchegaray's mission was to help Iraqi authorities consider the seriousness of the situation that faces them, encourage cooperation for the goal of peace and respect international law to secure the best resolution for the Iraqi people
Etchegaray, who has served as the pope's emissary to the Mideast and to China, will travel to Iraq on Monday.
As The Vatican announced its peace mission Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Germany hearing its suggestions for avoiding war.
Putin said after meeting Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that he saw no reason for war with Iraq, and that Russia agreed with France and Germany that U.N. weapons inspections should continue.
"We are sure that we need to continue all efforts for a peaceful resolution of this crisis," Putin told reporters.
He said Russia's position was "almost identical" to those of France and Germany, which have opposed a possible U.S.-led war with Iraq.
Schroeder said teams of weapons inspectors inside Iraq should be "improved and enlarged."
Putin is due to meet with French President Jacques Chirac on Monday.
French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero also denied hatching a secret plan for Iraq with Germany but said there were proposals still up for discussion "with our German partners as well as all the other partners of the Security Council."
The U.N.'s chief inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei are due to report to the Security Council on Friday the results of their latest visit to Iraq and their assessment of Baghdad's cooperation.
Blix said Sunday the Iraqis had handed over documents on "specific, high-profile unresolved issues" including anthrax, the chemical agent VX, and missiles and that there had been "good developments." (Full story)
Both Russia and France are permanent members of the Security Council -- with the power of veto over any new resolution authorizing military action -- and Germany which holds the rotating presidency of the council.
Germany and France have been at odds with the U.S. over how to tackle Iraq, with Washington becoming frustrated by Berlin and Paris' reluctance to go to war.
The frustration has boiled over at times with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accusing Germany and France of being part of "Old Europe."
Rumsfeld voiced his belief that time is running out for action to be taken in Iraq during the security conference. (Full Story)
Military planners suffered a further setback on Sunday when Belgium said it would stop NATO from developing plans for protecting Turkey in the event of a war in Iraq, Reuters reported.
Its Foreign Minister Louis Michel said Belgium would object to NATO drawing up plans before a Monday deadline. (Full Story)
"We are now busy with France and I think also with Germany to write this letter to again fully use this veto."
"We are going to block it between now and Monday -- it is settled."