ATHENS, Greece – European leaders called Thursday for a central role for the United Nations in rebuilding Iraq as they sought to heal the bitter split over the U.S.-led war.
At an EU summit, pro-war Britain and Spain and anti-war France and Germany jointly drafted a statement on bringing swift assistance to the Iraqi people that was endorsed by the other members of the union.
"The United Nations must play a central role, including in the process leading toward self-government for the Iraqi people," said the statement, issued as the two-day summit came to a close.
Britain said it is time to bury acrimony over the war.
"What we are doing is talking about the new Iraq. We are trying to put behind us the argument about whether or not the coalition should have taken military action," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told reporters.
The EU statement urged the United States to act quickly to restore law and order in Iraq, and to publish its much-anticipated "road map" for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The statement also urged Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to act more decisively in encouraging a Palestinian government.
"It is essential that there is an early endorsement by Chairman Arafat" of a Cabinet that Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is putting together, the EU draft statement said.
The statement said the U.N. "must play a central role" in reconstruction, starting with coordinating humanitarian aid and eventually including assistance for Iraqi self-government.
For now, U.S.-led coalition forces that toppled the Saddam Hussein's regime have "the responsibility to ensure a secure environment," the EU statement said.
European leaders also met with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the sideline of the summit and discussed "practical measures" concerning Iraq.
The war in Iraq largely overshadowed the summit's main event — a treaty signing ceremony formalizing the entry of Cyprus, Malta, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia into the EU by May 1, 2004.
French President Jacques Chirac told reporters the EU planned to take charge of airlifting Iraqi war wounded, especially children, to European hospitals.
Asked if France's opposition to the war would exclude French companies from reconstruction, Chirac said the United Nations should "define" the conditions of rebuilding Iraq.
Chirac also said France supported the end of U.N. sanctions against Iraq, a position that may help Washington secure Security Council backing for lifting the economic penalties.
There has been speculation that the Security Council members who opposed the war may reject President Bush's call to end the sanctions.
Denmark, the Netherlands and Spain — three backers of the U.S.-led war — announced they may send peacekeeping troops. Poland and the three Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia had similar plans.
Outside the meeting, police clashed with several hundred anti-war protesters. More than 100 people were detained.