TURKISH TROOPS PREPARE–RISK CLASHES WITH KURDS
BRUSSELS (Reuters)-European Union leaders warned Iraq’s neighbors on Thursday not to endanger stability in the region after Turkey’s parliament voted to enable Turkish troops to enter northern Iraq during a US led war.
Acknowledging major differences remained over the military action–the 15 EU leaders focused on what unites them–pledging to address humanitarian needs and work for regional peace.
"We call on all countries of the region to refrain from actions that could lead to further instability,” said a joint statement issued at a summit amid the most serious foreign policy crisis in EU history.
Diplomats said the message was clearly aimed at EU candidate Turkey–which refused to allow US troops to invade Iraq from its soil but cleared the way for thousands of its own troops to move in–raising the risk of clashes with Kurds in the autonomous north of Iraq.
"Northern Iraq is the wild card in all of this that would turn a two-sided affair into a four-way affray involving Kurds–Turks–Iraqis and Americans…and cause a flood of migran’s. Things could go very wrong,” a senior EU diplomat said.
Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis–chairing the summit–admitted the EU remained split as US and British forces went into action in Iraq.
"There are differences of opinion…quite serious disagreemen’s in fact. We can’t make them vanish nor can we overcome them at this time,” he told a news conference.
At France’s insistence–the statement omitted any mention of responsibility for the war or whether Iraq had failed to take the opportunity to disarm peacefully-a clause Britain had sought to justify its participation in the assault.
The leaders stressed their commitment to strengthening transatlantic relations and to the fundamental role of the United Nations–even though Washington and London went to war without the backing of the UN Security Council.
Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou earlier told the European Parliament that US-EU relations were going through "a significant crisis” over Iraq.
The EU leaders seemed keen to start healing bitter rifts among themselves on the Iraq conflict–after Britain–Spain and Italy backed the US drive to war against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein–while France and Germany led the anti-war camp.
But in a sign of raw personal relations–diplomats said there were no plans for British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac–the two main antagonists in the Iraq split–to meet privately during the curtailed summit.
The two men’shook hands after the joint statement was agreed–diplomats said–but the mood was one of minimal courtesy rather than reconciliation.
France–the loudest anti-war voice in the West–said earlier it was deeply concerned and forecast serious consequences–no matter how long the war lasted. Germany voiced dismay and said everything must be done to avert a humanitarian disaster.
"We should be ashamed of ourselves that we have not risen to the occasion and failed to reach a common position,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters.
Simitis said the EU could face a new refugee problem as a result of the conflict–as it did in the 1999 Kosovo war.
European Commission President Romano Prodi said the EU had information that refugees were already on the move in northern Iraq.
Prodi deplored the EU’s divisions and urged member states to speak with one voice and do more for their own defense to be less dependent on Washington.
"Whatever the outcome of the war–there can be no denying this is a bad time for the (EU) Common Foreign and Security Policy–for the European Union as a whole–for the authority of the UN–for NATO and for transatlantic relations,” he said.
"It is not in our interest to continue relying on others when it comes to defending our values militarily.”
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said European leaders could have avoided damaging disunity if they had been more realistic about US. intentions.
"I think that with a more realistic policy–we could have avoided this division since the United States had a determination against which it was not possible to oppose a different will,” he told reporters.
The Commission’s aid chief Poul Nielson said the EU aimed to get humanitarian help to Iraq as soon as possible and appealed to member states and the European Parliament for approval of 100 million euros ($106 million) in emergency extra funding.