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07 October, 2002
European Union defense ministers examined the speedy activation of the European army, its financing, the Mediterranean dimension of European defense and security, the situation in the Balkans and developments in Iraq during an informal two-day conference ending in the city of Rethymno on Saturday.
Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou, who presided over the session, said that work groups will submit a relevant report on existing shortages in weaponry systems by March 1, 2003, to ensure the European rapid reaction force's operational readiness in 2003, in accordance with the decision initially taken at the Helsinki summit.
He added that a group will also be set up to propose ways of financing the European army, while final decisions will be taken by the General Affairs Council on November 17-18.
EU Common Foreign and Defense Policy Commissioner Javier Solana said the fact that final results on the activation of the European rapid reaction force will be had in 2003 is a great success for the Greek presidency.
Both Papantoniou and Solana reiterated that in no way will the EU compete with NATO and that they will function in a supplementary fashion.
On the question of developments in Iraq, the EU's defense ministers reiterated their dedication to UN Security Council resolutions and stated that disarming the country's arsenal remains the objective.
The British and French defense ministers briefed their counterparts on discussions held at the UN on the issue. At the same time, the 15 expressed hope that the process of the UN issuing a resolution on sending inspectors will have a positive conclusion as soon as possible.
Solana reiterated that the EU is not in favor of a change in the regime in Iraq.
He also announced that he will visit Ramalla, Jerusalem and Cairo in a new mediating effort by the EU to defuse the Middle East crisis.
Papantoniou clarified that the force to replace the NATO force in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) as of 2003, provided a relevant request is made by the neighboring country, will be a mixed one and the EU will be playing the leading role.
A conference will also be held on the island of Rhodes on November 1-2 to facilitate better coordination and cooperation between Mediterranean European countries in handling crises which might break out in the region.
The conference will aim at activating the participation of Mediterranean countries in processes concerning common European defense and security policy.
Papantoniou also reiterated that Greece supports Turkey's European prospects and called on it to adopt criteria set at the Helsinki summit.
Commenting on relations between Russia and the EU, Papantoniou said good cooperation between the two sides should also be developed in the defense sector.
Disturbances broke out on a limited scale during an anti-war rally held in the city due to possible intervention in Iraq.
The disturbances began when the demonstrators attempted to break through a police cordon and approach the building where the EU defense ministers were meeting close by.
Source: Athens News Agency