EU Examines UN's Iraq Role

ATHENS, Greece -- United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan was meeting EU leaders Wednesday to try to define the world body's role in Iraq and heal rifts over the U.S.-led war.

In a sign of how the fates of the United Nations and European Union are entwining, the part to be played by the United Nations in postwar Iraq has become a major issue on the fringes of the European Union's first summit since the conflict.

Greek police fired tear gas and anti-Iraq war protesters threw Molotov cocktails in clashes just several hundred meters from where the summit was in progress.

Several hours earlier about 100 protesters occupied a British Airways office in an Athens suburb to protest Britain's role in the Iraq war.

The clashes had been expected and unprecedented security turned central Athens into a fortress, with key streets blocked off by nearly 20,000 police.

Countries such as France, Germany and Russia want to bolster the UN as a bulwark against what they see as burgeoning U.S. power manifested by Washington's determination to have the main say on postwar Iraq.

Annan is attempting to get some consensus on the UN's role in Iraq from meetings with leaders of Britain, France, Germany and the foreign minister of Russia.

"I suspect that if we heal the divisions in the Security Council, you will see other organizations will be able to heal theirs," Annan said.

Annan made the comments after a meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, whose comments were typical of the views of several European Union nations.

Persson said that after an initial period the United Nations had to be in the "driving seat" for the reconstruction of Iraq. "To run it, to involve companies, to involve international organizations, that is not a unilateral issue, it's a multilateral approach and it can only be done under the umbrella of the United Nations," Persson said.

The UN secretariat does not want to administer Iraq or to be responsible for security.

Secret UN papers mirror British proposals -- a conference organized by the UN along the lines of Afghanistan. Iraqis would choose an interim government that would pave the way to elections.

But the United States has not agreed to any of this and Russia and France appear to be insisting on a broader UN political role.

Annan has chosen an advisor on Iraq but not a special representative to attend meetings between the United States and Iraqis until it is clear what the UN would do. That depends on agreement in the Security Council.

"The secretary general is nudging the Europeans to get back together and then get the Americans to play ball," one diplomat said. "But right now the Europeans and the Russians want a piece of the world action and the United Nations seems to be the way to do it."