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EU backs 'central' U.N. Iraq role

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Can European leaders put the row over Iraq behind them?


ATHENS, Greece (CNN) -- European leaders said Thursday in Athens that the EU and the United Nations must have significant roles in rebuilding Iraq.

The Europe Union also stressed that the United States and Britain had a responsibility to restore stability and security in Iraq, and members welcomed a call by U.S. President George W. Bush to lift sanctions against the country.

"The U.N. must play a central role, including in the process leading towards self-government for the Iraqi people, utilizing its unique capacity and experience in post-conflict nation building," said the statement, issued by Greece, which currently holds the EU presidency.

"At this stage, the coalition has the responsibility to ensure a secure environment, including for the provision of humanitarian assistance and the protection of the cultural heritage and museums."

The EU said it was committed "to play a significant role in the political and economic reconstruction" of Iraq.

The statement, following two days of talks in Athens, had been drafted by Britain, France, Germany and Spain and was discussed with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in Athens before it was approved by the 15 EU nations.

It comes as European leaders move to bridge divides caused by the war in Iraq.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair met French President Jacques Chirac Wednesday for the first time since the war began, and the two agreed on the need for rapid Iraqi humanitarian aid.

Chirac, who strongly opposed the war, called for a swift EU-funded airlift of seriously injured Iraqi children for treatment in European hospitals.

Riot police clash with protesters during anti-war demonstration in Athens on Wednesday.
Riot police clash with protesters during anti-war demonstration in Athens on Wednesday.

"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.

Meanwhile, EU leaders offered cautious support Thursday for Bush's call for the lifting of sanctions against Iraq, which have been in effect for the past 13 years. (Full story)

"Lifting sanctions is a goal we have supported for a long time," Chirac said. "Now it is up to the United Nations to define the modalities of the lifting of sanctions."

As EU leaders met Wednesday on the first day of their summit, police battled with thousands of anti-war protesters as violence flared in center of Athens. (Full story)

Also Wednesday, 10 new members signed an accession treaty to join the EU in May 2004. (Full story)

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