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In Face of Massive War Protests, EU Pushes For More Inspections

By Keith B. Richburg

Acknowledging antiwar protests across the continent, the 15 European Union leaders agreed Monday night that U.N. weapons inspectors should get more time to find and destroy Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and declared that a war against President Saddam Hussein “should be used only as a last resort.”

Gathered here for an emergency summit conference to help heal deep divisions in Europe over Iraq, the leaders also warned Iraq that “inspections cannot continue indefinitely” and said Saddam must “disarm and cooperate immediately” to avoid the attack threatened by the Bush administration.

“Baghdad should have no illusions,” a summit statement said. “It must disarm and cooperate immediately and fully. Iraq has a final opportunity to resolve this crisis peacefully. The Iraqi regime alone will be responsible for the consequences if it continues to flout the will of the international community and does not take this last chance.”

Despite the warning, the European declaration was marked most by what it did not say: It set no deadline for the inspections to be called off, it did not commit European countries to using force to back up U.N. resolutions on disarming Iraq, and it did not say Saddam is already in “material breach” of existing U.N. resolutions.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the U.S. ally most closely aligned with Washington, had sought these elements to narrow the gap between his fellow European Union leaders, who want to give the U.N. inspectors more time, and a Bush administration that is saying with increasing impatience that time is up. Instead, the statement said Europe wants to disarm Iraq peacefully. And in a bow to the millions of antiwar protesters who took to the streets over the weekend, it said it is pushing for a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis because “it is clear that this is what the people of Europe want.”