EU and US to Co-Host Iraq Meeting

July 7, 2008 - 8:16 PM

Paris (CNSNews.com) - In a show of unity, the European Union and United States are co-hosting an international conference on Iraq in Brussels next week to mobilize support for Baghdad's transitional government.

Foreign ministers from more than 85 nations are expected to attend as Iraqi officials present their strategy for the months ahead, leading to a new round of elections at year's end.

Organizers said the June 22 conference would be structured around three main themes in Iraq's reconstruction -- the political process, the economic challenges, and public order and rule of law.

The conference comes more than two years after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's comments that countries opposing the Iraq war, like France and Germany, represented an "old" Europe, in contrast to the "new" Europe -- countries in central and eastern Europe, who along with Britain and Italy, were involved in the U.S.-led multinational force.

A European Union official said on Wednesday that those differences that had strained relationships within the 25-nation bloc had been ironed out.

"In spite of past divisions, the E.U. member states are ready to engage constructively in the reconstruction of Iraq, and that is the way they will go forward in the future."

The central objective now was to "facilitate the emergence of a viable state in Iraq," the official said.

Last week the E.U.'s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and other representatives went to Baghdad to prepare for the conference and meet with President Jalal Talabani and other Iraqi leaders.

"Our presence today underlines that the European Union is fully committed to a secure, stable, unified and democratic Iraq that will make a positive contribution to the stability of the region," Solana said during the visit.

At a conference in Madrid in Oct. 2003, the E.U. pledged 1.2 billion euros in aid to Iraq. It has so far contributed 320 million euros through a multi-donor trust fund managed by the World Bank.

At least 20 E.U. member states have volunteered to participate in a "rule of law" mission that begins in July and will offer training and trainers to Iraqi government officials as well as financial assistance.

The E.U. has not made available a list of participating countries, but analysts believe that France and Germany are unlikely to be among them because differences over the Iraq war do, in fact, persist.

"There is little chance of France and Germany making a significant contribution on Iraq," said Fraser Cameron, director of studies at the European Policy Center in Brussels.

Officials and analysts argue, however, that the security situation in Iraq is also a major factor in keeping European nations away from Iraq at the moment.

"There'll be a re-packaging of various pledges next week at the conference but I'm not expecting anything major here," Cameron said.

The conference was a "symbolic" way for Europe to "show solidarity with America" and to demonstrate that the strained transatlantic relations which developed over the Iraq war two years ago were now over, he said.

The E.U. has been sending the same message.

"The very decision to hold an Iraq international conference in Brussels and to have it co-hosted by the U.S and the E.U. is a very strong message indicating the way the two partners want to work together in the future for the benefit of Iraq," said the E.U. official.

The conference comes two days after President Bush hosts a U.S.-E.U. summit in Washington. He will meet with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, whose country holds the rotating E.U. presidency until Britain takes over on July 1.

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