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EU leaders back bombing strategy

Schroeder dismissed calls for a halt to bombing during Ramadan
Schroeder dismissed calls for a halt to bombing during Ramadan  

BERLIN, Germany -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder says European Union leaders are united in their support of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan.

Schroeder said EU leaders had agreed at a mini-summit in London on Sunday that there was a need for a "broad-based political concept" for Afghanistan's post-war era.

He said none of the participants had called for a ceasefire.

"In the European Union we are in agreement that, for the time being, the military measures need to be carried out in a goal-oriented fashion," he said on Monday.

Dutch PM Wim Kok: "Part of the time was spent on the Middle East process"
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French President Jacques Chirac: "We have to solve the humanitarian problem"
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CNN European Political Editor Robin Oakley: "No new declarations"
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British Prime Minister Tony Blair hosted the meeting with French President Jacques Chirac, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and Schroeder.

Spain's Jose Maria Aznar, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana also took part.

Schroeder dismissed calls for a halt to bombing during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan that starts in mid-November.

"No one called for a ceasefire," he said.

"This would only lead to the attacks being extended and the Taliban would be able to regroup."

But he added: "It is possible that one will try to take into consideration in one form or another that there are sensitive issues there."

Blair has been at the forefront of international diplomatic efforts to shore up the coalition as the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan entered their fifth week.

Sunday's dinner at Blair's official Downing Street residence followed a week during which criticism of the military campaign and calls for an end to the bombing began to be voiced by aid groups and politicians in many European countries.

After the meeting, Chirac said the leaders agreed on the need for a solution to the problems in the Middle East. They also expressed support for the military action in Afghanistan, Chirac said.

"We reaffirmed our complete solidarity with the Americans, while being aware that ... military action is not the only way to fight international terrorism and that we must reinforce the means of finding a political solution to the organisation of Afghanistan," Chirac told Reuters.

Blair's official spokesman said the meeting was a chance for the leaders to "swap notes" on the current situation.

"The prime minister wanted to get together with the five major military contributors to exchange views on the military campaign," the spokesman told the Press Association.

The spokesman said Blair continued to believe that the bombing campaign was making "steady progress."

"It was a useful opportunity for the leaders to get an overview of the situation," the spokesman said.

Chirac, right, and Jospin arrive at 10 Downing Street
Chirac, right, and Jospin arrive at 10 Downing Street  

There was said to have been "absolute solidarity" around the combined military, diplomatic and humanitarian strategy being pursued by the coalition.

Blair, who will travel to Washington on Wednesday to see President George W. Bush, also briefed his guests on his trip to the Middle East, which was aimed at shoring up Muslim support for the military campaign in Afghanistan and rekindling the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

During his Middle East tour, Blair encouraged moderate Muslims to "capture back the ground" from bin Laden and the Taliban, but admitted that a gulf existed between the West and the Muslim world.

Blair also acknowledged that he had only modest hopes of restarting genuine negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

"I think this is the possibility," Blair said when he returned from the trip on Thursday. "I wouldn't put it any higher than that -- that we can prepare the ground to move the Middle East peace process forward."


• Number 10 Downing Street
• The European Union

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