Blair stresses UN role in Iraq

Tony Blair today joined Kofi Annan in stressing the importance of the role the UN would play in post-war Iraq.

The Prime Minister met the UN Secretary-General for talks at the European Union summit in Athens, where he is seeking to build bridges with fellow leaders.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw reportedly suggested the UN could find itself sidelined in efforts to reconstruct Iraq.

'Importance' of UN

But, speaking after his meeting with Mr Annan,Mr Blair said: "We are agreed on the importance of the United Nations in post-conflict Iraq."

That meant involvement "not simply in respect of

humanitarian issues but also political and reconstruction issues that arise", he added.

Asked about Mr Straw's reported remarks, he said: "I don't think anyone has said the role of the UN should be small."

Mr Annan told reporters: "I am confident that the UN will play an important role and as we move ahead in the next few weeks I expect that role to become much clearer."

The two-day summit was called to finalise EU enlargement, but it will be dominated now by post-war issues, including the need for European leaders to "kiss and make up" following the row over the US-led military action to topple Saddam Hussein.

The summit gives Mr Blair an opportunity to meet face to face with French President Jacques Chirac, whose bitter opposition to war extended to threatening to use his country's Security Council veto to block a draft resolution - eventually dropped by the coalition partners - which would have put the United Nations' imprimatur on military action.

Blair to make call for EU 'president'

The Prime Minister was to say that it is time to provide a new European figurehead - "someone the White House can call", as one government official put it.

Mr Blair wants a full-time "president", appointed from the ranks of present or former European prime ministers, to become the public face of the EU and give it a coherent voice.

Out would go the present EU system under which each member state takes charge of policy on a six-month rotation. In would come an appointee for a fixed term of at least two and a half years, providing policy continuity and stability.

He can count his most vociferous anti-war protagonists - the French and Germans - on his side in pushing for a new "president of Europe", as well as the Spanish, Swedes, Danes and Italians.

But smaller member states, particularly the newcomers, are relying on EU membership to give them an equal voice, and see Mr Blair's strategy as bolstering the big players and weakening the European Commission.

Mr Blair's plans were being set out on the day he and the other EU leaders formally sign into being an "accession treaty", ushering 10 countries into the club.

The 15 nation bloc becomes 25 from May 1, 2004, adding Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Cyprus in the most ambitious round of expansion in the EU's 50-year history.

The summit was being surrounded by tight security. Some 25,000 police will seal off central Athens for the meeting, with tens of thousands of anti-war and anti-globalisation protesters expected to flood into the city.

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