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EU says war must be last resort

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LUXEMBOURG — The European Union said Monday it could accept going to war to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction but only after exhausting all diplomatic means.

At a meeting, the EU foreign ministers issued a strategy paper in response to the significant differences in the run-up to the Iraq war between Washington and European capitals over how to deal with weapons of mass destruction.

Ideally, according to the strategy paper, war would need the approval of the U.N. Security Council. But the EU foreign ministers left open the question of whether approval was mandatory, saying the council "should play a central role."

Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy and security chief Javier Solana, said the reference to the role of the United Nations had been left intentionally ambiguous in order to satisfy all sides in the debate.

The paper says that, when diplomacy has failed, "coercive measures under Chapter VII of the U.N. charter and international law — sanctions, selective or global, interceptions of shipments and, as appropriate, the use of force — could be envisioned."

It suggested a multilateral approach to containing the spread of weapons of mass destruction through such steps as strengthening export controls, ensuring compliance with nonproliferation commitments and promoting close coordination with the United States.

"We will not go immediately to military action," Solana told reporters. "Many things have to be done before we go to the United Nations to see if measures are taken."

Although adopted by all 15 EU nations, it is not legally binding, leaving open the possibility of a repeat of the sort of trans-Atlantic friction that preceded the Iraq war.