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EU cautions Iraq on death penalty

Zebari also plans to meet with NATO officials Tuesday.
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union has urged the interim Iraqi government not to reinstate the death penalty.

Speaking after a meeting Monday in Brussels with Iraqi officials, Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot said the talks resulted in "an exchange of thoughts."

"We've also discussed the question of the death penalty and expressed the hope that the death penalty will be abolished in Iraq," Bot said at a news conference.

Bot, whose country has newly assumed the rotating EU presidency, added: "We'll continue to dialogue with Iraq on this issue."

The U.S.-led occupation of Iraq suspended the death penalty, but with the recent dissolution of the Coalition Provisional authority -- and the accompanying return of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government -- execution again became an option for Iraqi courts.

There are concerns that the death penalty, if reinstated, could be used in the case of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

The EU opposes the death penalty.

"We have this policy, and we will maintain this policy, and I hope we have been able to convince him a little bit as to our convictions," the Dutch minister said.

Zebari said it would take time. "The new, democratic, free Iraq that we aspire to establish should be free of any clauses of death penalty in its law," he said.

"At the same time, the reality we face on the ground ... requires some tougher decisions and action to bring the situation under control."

Monday's meeting in Brussels marks the first high-level talks between EU ministers and post-Saddam Hussein officials.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari -- filling in for interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi -- is leading his country's delegation at the EU meeting.

He also plans to meet with NATO officials Tuesday.

Allawi decided to forego the Brussels trip because of security concerns. Terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi threatened Allawi's life a few weeks ago.

EU nations are expected to offer help for Iraq's reconstruction and ask the Iraqi officials about other needs in areas like humanitarian aid, lawmaking, technical support for general elections, and training and equipping Iraqi security forces.

Besides consulting with the 25 EU ministers, Zebari will meet with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and Chris Patten, external relations commissioner.

At NATO, Zebari is to meet with Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

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