Brussels, Feb. 17 (Reuters): European Union leaders, deeply divided over Iraq, sought a united front at an emergency summit today, while Nato military planners moved to defend Turkey after breaking their deadlock over the pace of war planning.
After a decade of dramatic progress on common political goals and, for many members, a common currency, the 15-nation EU has split on foreign policy and how to disarm Iraq.
Divisions run deep. Britain has troops with US forces in the Gulf for a possible war on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Germany says it will not participate in any war against Iraq.
The hastily arranged Brussels summit may be a defining test of whether the EU can speak with one voice when it counts.
“The future of Europe lies not only in the euro (currency) but having a European defence policy,” Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said.
But President Jacques Chirac signalled he had not come to the summit to compromise.
The French President said while arms inspections continued he saw no need for a second UN resolution sought by Britain authorising the use of force against Iraq.
“We consider that war is always, always, the worst solution,” he said on arrival in Brussels.
“That is our position which leads us to conclude that it is not necessary today to have a second resolution, which France could only oppose.”
For a month, Belgium, France and Germany had blocked another Western alliance, the 19-nation Nato military group, from making plans to defend Turkey in the event of war against Iraq.
The trio argued that planning would be seen as preparing for war. But a deal was struck on Sunday and Nato secretary-general George Robertson said: “Alliance solidarity has prevailed.”
Turkey, which opposes war, is a reluctant US ally and said it would not accept US troops for an Iraq campaign without a deal on financial aid to help cover the cost of the conflict.
The US wants urgent Turkish approval for plans to launch a northern military front to drive towards Baghdad from Turkey’s border.
But foreign minister Yasar Yakis said any proposal to accept US troops would go to parliament “only after an agreement” on financial aid.
A leading pro-government Turkish business group, TOBB, said damage to the economy from a U.S.-led campaign could mount to more than $16 billion over the next 12 months.
Global financial markets viewed weekend mass rallies against an Iraq war as dimming the prospects of an imminent attack.
Stocks and the dollar rose as investors shied away from safe havens such as bonds and gold. The view that war was now further off was helped by the latest report on Iraq to the U.N. Security Council by chief weapons inspector Hans Blix on Friday.
The Security Council sent the inspectors back to Iraq in November, after a four-year absence, to hunt for alleged chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Baghdad denies it has such weapons.
TIDE TURNING IN BRUSSELS'
International debate has revolved around how long inspectors should be given before the U.S.-led military is unleashed, with Washington saying repeatedly that time is running out.
While U.S. and British forces build towards some 250,000 in the Gulf by early March, some countries have taken precautionary measures.
Kuwait, invaded by Iraq in 1990, shut two small oilfields in a“risky” area near the border; Spain, also a firm backer of U.S. policy on Iraq, withdrew its diplomats from Baghdad.
Diplomatic signs ahead of the EU summit suggested the tide was turning towards so-called“Old Europe” Ä nations like Germany, France and Belgium which oppose early military action while U.N. weapons inspectors are able to work.
Their camp, embracing to varying degrees Sweden, Finland, Austria, Luxembourg and Greece, enters the summit bolstered by Blix's mainly positive U.N. report, huge anti-war marches and a communique by Arab foreign ministers opposing military action.
They want to keep efforts to disarm Iraq at the Security Council and resist U.S. President George W. Bush's determination to wage war with a“coalition of the willing” if necessary.
In what could be a gesture towards EU compromise, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Germany would not block a common position recognising military action could be a last resort if Iraq failed to disarm.
The pro-American EU camp, led by Britain and Spain, includes Italy, Denmark and Portugal.
As European leaders focus on Brussels, Washington hinted it would give diplomacy more time Ä but not too much more.
Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said on Sunday talk of more time eased pressure on Iraq to comply with U.N. demands to disarm.
Rice said Washington was willing to pursue a U.N. resolution and“see where we come out” but she noted that such a resolution should not be“a delaying tactic”.