|Vol.7, No.33, 13.9.01, p1-2
MOST EU countries vowed last night (12 September) to support America in any retaliation against the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks which claimed thousands of lives in the US this week.
Meeting in Brussels, NATO members including 11 EU states, decided that if it is determined the atrocities were directed from abroad, all the US allies would rally to its defence.
The decision paves the way for Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, under which the Alliance was established, to be invoked for the first time. The 'mutual defence guarantee' clause declares an attack on one NATO member shall be considered an attack on all.
The chorus of condemnation from EU leaders was unanimous in the wake of Tuesday's attack, which destroyed the World Trade Center in New York and severely damaged the Pentagon.
The Belgian presidency is urging all Europeans to observe three minutes' silence at noon tomorrow. Its Foreign Minister Louis Michel described the assault on America as "attacks not only against the US but against humanity itself". Speaking after yesterday's emergency session of the EU's general affairs council, Michel said that the Union needed to consolidate its foreign and security policy and devise a coordinated anti-terrorism strategy. The ministers have also offered "all possible assistance" with search-and-rescue operations in New York and Washington.
Earlier in the day, the European Commission promised to accelerate its work on devising a European arrest warrant to combat crimes which transcend national borders and a definition of terrorism that will be acceptable to all member states.
The Union's executive believes the absence of a common legal approach to politically-motivated offences in the 15 EU countries has hampered efforts to prevent terrorist attacks and is likely to bring forward a proposal to remove the anomalies later this month.
Despite expectations that the US will take a harder anti-Palestinian line because of suspicions that Islamic fundamentalists masterminded the attacks, both of the two main EU institutions have said they will continue pushing for a peaceful resolution of conflict raging in the Middle East. The EU has been the world's main donor to the Palestinian Authority since its inception.
Leading MEPs have, meanwhile, urged the Bush administration not to undertake rash acts of retaliation, which could lead to the mass killing of civilians in the Arab world. Suspicions that groups linked to Saudi dissident Osama Bin Laden were behind the attacks rose yesterday after officials identified five Arab men - one a trained pilot - who had boarded the four jets hijacked in the US ahead of the attacks. "If our suspicions are confirmed, let us not blame the entire Islamic and Arabic world," said Hans-Gert Pöttering, head of the Parliament's biggest political group, the European People's Party.
Labelling the events a "true watershed" for world affairs, Commission chief Romano Prodi announced that emergency steps are being taken to ensure the safety of Union officials, including staff in its overseas delegations.
Development chief Poul Nielson was due to visit Afghanistan, where Bin Laden is currently sheltering, this week but his visit has been cancelled amid speculation that a US strike against the ruling Taliban is imminent.
His spokesman Michael Curtis said that the Commission does not have any staff based in the central Asian state but some of the UN and non-governmental aid workers, currently being evacuated from there, have been implementing EU-sponsored humanitarian projects.
The head of the European Parliament's delegation to the US, British Socialist Mel Read, was taking part in a meeting less than 3km from the Pentagon when one of the jets crashed into the building. "The United States is still reeling from this huge tragedy," she said. "Serious concerns are being expressed about the US intelligence authorities and their effectiveness."
Belgian Cardinal Godfried Dannels led a prayer service for the dead and injured at Van Maerlant chapel in the heart of Brussels' European quarter last night. Richard Morningstar, Washington's outgoing EU ambassador, thanked the Union for offering help with the rescue efforts.
Most EU countries vowed on 12 September 2001 to support America in any retaliation against the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks on 11 September which claimed thousands of lives in the US. Meeting in Brussels, NATO members including 11 EU states, decided that if it is determined the atrocities were directed from abroad, all the US allies would rally to its defence.
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